Spain and tea aren’t two words that go together. In Spain, it’s coffee that’s king. Tea is often an afterthought – a weak, insipid drink for the infirm and those with digestive troubles. In short, Spanish tea culture is a far cry from that of my home country, The UK. That’s why the long-awaited purchase of a workplace kettle sent waves of surprise, scepticism and ultimately, delight through the Spanish office. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning…
A few weeks ago something short of a miracle happened in the office. No, we didn’t get our hours reduced to a normal 9-5 timetable, or free beers on a Friday, we finally got, (drum roll, please)… a kettle!
Any Brits reading this will now be asking themselves how we made our tea before now. How did I work in an office for a year without a kettle? How could you live without one?
Well, first of all, let me just explain a thing or two about Spanish tea culture… or rather the lack thereof.
Spanish Tea Culture
Spaniards don’t really drink a lot of tea. Most people seem to prefer a good cup of café con leche – there isn’t an office in the city without a decent espresso machine, and people will often stop at a café at 8pm at night to have a coffee and croissant. People in Spain only occasionally drink tea, and it’s normally herbal teas (infusiones). Even then, a lot of my colleagues have commented that it’s only something they would drink if they felt ill. This is in stark contrast to Britain where the kettle is constantly refilled throughout the day and you’d be hard-pressed not to be offered a good strong cuppa in any workplace.
Owing to the lack of any tea enthusiasm, there’s a depressing dearth of it in Spanish supermarkets. 90% of the teas on offer are simple, one-ingredient herbal teas and the remaining 10% is black tea that makes sad watery cups of bitter disappointment. There aren’t a lot of brands to choose from either – the main ones seem to be “Hornimans” and “Pompadour”, or otherwise bear pseudo-English brand names like “Westminster” and “Pickwick” tea, which I’ve never seen in England. You can find British brands like Tetley and PG Tips, but only in the foreign foods section of certain supermarkets. Personally, I stock up on boxes of Marks & Sparks Gold Blend whenever I’m in England, and when I exhaust my tea supplies, I have a kind British colleague who will always have a spare bag of happiness for me.
But anyway, you must still be asking yourself the one million dollar question…
How Did We Make Our Tea Before The Arrival Of the Kettle?
Are you sitting down? Take a deep breath…
We were MICROWAVING the water.
Yep, you read that right.
Of course, the water doesn’t get hot enough, and the already weak tea bags barely infuse at all. The whole affair produces insipid, lukewarm nastiness.
But why did I put up with this for a year already? Surely I could have just requested a kettle? They’re not expensive.
I was toying with the idea for a while but was reluctant to give people an additional reason to view me as even more of a guiri than I invariably am. I’m already the only vegetarian in an office of 30+ people, so I don’t need anything else marking me out as a weirdo, you see. But after a year of suffering in silence, I decided enough was enough. I was getting my kettle.
Initially my request for a kettle was met with surprise and scepticism.
“What do we need a kettle for? We already have a microwave.”
“A kettle is just another piece of kitchen junk we could do without.”
“Who will clean it?”
“Will people actually use it?”
Incredulous as it may seem, these are genuinely the reactions I got from my colleagues.
Nevertheless, it was ordered, and a day later our Amazon delivery arrived containing our small, but perfectly functional kettle.
Despite the initial scepticism, when it arrived it created much excitement and I found myself bombarded with questions about this new kitchen device:
“Will the kettle keep the water hot like a flask?”
“How much water should go in the kettle?”
“Is this the same kind of kettle that we use in England? (I’m sure they think we all use traditional teapots which we heat up on the stove and cover in tea cosies.)
What Spaniards probably think Brits use for their daily brew
Critical Acclaim for The Kettle
After answering a barrage of questions –
no, it wouldn’t keep the water hot,
you should add as much water as you need for your (tiny) Spanish teacup,
yes, indeed we use the same type of kettle in the UK (albeit bigger – ain’t nobody going nowhere with a 1L kettle when people use mugs the size of swimming pools)
– my colleagues were satisfied and proceeded to try this new and mysterious device.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve been singing its praises ever since.
“Ooo, it heats the water really quick, isn’t it?!”
“The water gets really hot, doesn’t it?!”…
“It’s just so practical!”
In short, my Spanish colleagues have been introduced to the joys of using a device fit for the purpose of making tea and are now proficient kettle users.
Is this the Start of Burgeoning Spanish Tea Culture?
Well, almost. The kettle is still religiously unplugged every night as if it might spontaneously combust if we leave it unattended. People heat up far more water than they actually need for their tiny cups (although admittedly this is a bad habit everywhere, not just in Spain). One colleague puts cold milk into the water before the teabag. AGHHH! Some leave the hot water in the kettle for half an hour to “cool down a little” before pouring it into their cup.
Admittedly, they aren’t as bewildered as one Spaniard I knew from my student days. Never having seen a kettle, he was caught shoving spaghetti into it. When his vain attempt to cook it inevitably failed he had to ask his dumbfounded flatmates what he was doing wrong. Yes, the mind boggles.
So, in summary, the kettle has been a big hit and my colleagues now know how to make tea, more or less.
And I can finally have a good cuppa!
On that note, I’ll stick the kettle on now. That’s all for this week.
Sending you sunshine and positivity from Barcelona!
A good cup of tea is one of the things I miss about the UK. What things do you miss about your home country when you’re abroad? I would love to find out in the comments section below!