My dears, I have been thinking about tea and Star Trek.
To be fair, as a proud daughter of Albion, tea is my default position. It is, as we like to say, a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of English identity must be in want of a cup of tea.
This latest iteration of tea-related cogitation was occasioned by Victoria Coren’s rant regarding the inexplicable re-branding of Assam to “English Breakfast” (she was also ranting about American colonialism, so apologies to US readers if that feels a bit uncuddly. We love you really, and traditionally are only ever rude to people we like). It was a long time before I realised that this had happened. Assam was my preferred brew, and when I couldn’t find it I did start drinking the new blend instead. It was, and still is, quite inconceivable to me that anyone would change the name of Assam for marketing purposes (as I suppose they have done – I’m still not sure why).
Tea marketing, if you will bear with me, inevitably reminds me of Jean Luc Picard and the Earl Grey phenomenon. When Star Trek: The Next Generation was a regular feature of the TV schedules, his fondness for “Earl Grey, hot” saw a consumer boom in purchase of the tea. Each to their own, I say; Earl Grey has its place, although I tend more to the view of Sam Vimes that if you can see the bottom of the cup, it isn’t proper tea.
However, Jean Luc, for all his other perfections, always irritated me with the “Tea. Earl Grey, hot.”
Firstly, what is a Frenchman (even one from Yorkshire) doing drinking Earl Grey at any temperature? It’s the embodiment of the nobility and it’s tea, albeit of a particular kind. Have you been to France? Fantastic coffee; if I was looking for coffee, after Italy, I might try France. Tea, on the other hand, is less successful on the Gallic side of La Manche. It tends to be Lipton’s Yellow Label, which the UK exports to the Continent as the French export their least popular wine to the UK. Liptons, in my personal experiences, produces a drink that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. In mainland Europe it tends to be served with hot milk or UHT milk.
Secondly, why does he have to specify the temperature? It is possible that a couple of hundred years from now everyone will be drinking cold tea in some kind of perverted corruption of best tea drinking practice. To which I say, don’t. Earl grey is to be drunk hot, unless otherwise specified. It would make sense, for example, for Jean Luc to say “Tea. Earl Grey, iced” to differentiate from the norm. The “hot” is completely redundant.
Thirdly, why does he have to specify his preference for Earl Grey anyway? Voice recognition, anyone? The computer systems on the Enterprise regularly identify him, and indeed other crew members, for all kinds of reasons: initiating self-destruct, finding lost people, firing on his mark, bringing up medical records, playing his favourite music. If they can pick music they can certainly remember what kind of tea he likes at what temperature and advise the replicators accordingly. He commands the whole ship by voice; if it knows who he is, it can certainly know how he likes his tea. Unless the French accent is a problem for the catering circuits.
Which brings me to: fourthly, why is it not “Earl Grey, chaud”? For once I am on the side the L’Académie française with regard to the use of the French language.
I suspect some of you will be shaking your heads in sorrow, and saying, “EBL, old thing, you’re just over-thinking it. Go and have a lie down.”
To which I replay: tea is too important to be brushed aside like that. Respect the leaf, people, respect the leaf!