Spanish Tea Culture
Culture,  Favourites,  Spain

Spanish Tea Culture and The Arrival of the Kettle

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!

 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.

Spanish Tea Culture leaves much to be desired. THere is a poot choice of tea in the supermarket.
Where’s your green tea and cherry bakewell flavour? Your salted caramel and chocolate? Your decent builder’s breakfast blend?

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.

Spanish Tea Culture involve heating up tea in microwaves.
A device for heating up ready meals, but under no circumstances tea
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

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. 

Reactions

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.

Spanish Tea Culture Doesn't Involve Kettles
Our new 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!

Spanish Tea Culture is not for me but may be changing

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!

Find Out More

If you want to learn more about Spanish culture and have a laugh at the same time, read these other articles on Across the Water: A-Z of Spain Part 1 and Part 2, and Queuing in Spain: How to Do it Right.

Discover more about Spanish tea culture, the different types of tea in Spain and the best places to drink it in Madrid and Granada in TripSavvy’s Guide to Drinking Tea in Spain.

Craving a cuppa in the Catalan capital? Check out Devour Barcelona’s 6 Recommendations for Afternoon Tea in Barcelona.

Read about Tea Cultures Around the World in this article by InterNations.

I love hearing from you! Scroll down to the comments below to leave me a message. And remember, sharing is caring!

6 Comments

  • respain

    When we are permanently living in Spain I will miss proper unsmoked back bacon and my better half will be sad to never see Marks and Spencer crumbly Lancashire cheese again.
    Consum do a lovely English breakfast tea by the way. My wife loves Twinnings English breakfast tea and the Consum equivalent is a fab alternative.

  • h2omonkey

    Oh yes, Marks and Spencers goodies will be sorely missed! When we were in Gran Canaria on holiday we were surprised to find out they actually have Marks and Spencers, but I haven’t seen one in mainland Spain. Make sure you stock up on the bacon and cheese when you can! When are you making the big move? And thanks for the tea advice!

  • Anq

    We got the same office kettle! Tea is so complicated here 😱
    I’m still laughing at “sad watery cups of bitter disappointment”. That is so true 🤣🤣

  • The Travel Architect

    I had to laugh. I put the tea bag in before the milk, but the husband always says I need to let the bag steep much longer before putting in the milk. I’m sure I wouldn’t notice the difference, but he sure gets his undies in a bundle about it. Ha ha!

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