Trouble brewing: Tea debate sparks US – UK diplomatic exchange

Storm in a tea cup

Painting: 'Tea sabotage in Boston Port,' (1846). Credit: Nathaniel Currier - Public domain/Creative Commons

Following advice from an American chemist on how to make the perfect cuppa, the controversy has led to a diplomatic exchange between the UK and the US, or is it just a storm in a teacup?

An American professor’s unconventional tea-making advice prompted an official statement from the US Embassy in London and a counter-response from the British cabinet office.

Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, stirred controversy with her tea-making suggestions.

Among other things, she suggested adding salt to tea and also lemon juice to remove ‘scum’ which might form on top, ingredients which would normally compliment a good plate of fish and chips.

United States Embassy press release

On Wednesday, January 24, the US Embassy’s official statement, shared via Twitter/X, humorously acknowledged the tension: ‘An important statement on the latest tea controversy.’

This was accompanied by an official United States Embassy Press Release: ‘Today’s media reports of an American professor’s recipe for the perfect cup of tea has landed our special bond with the United Kingdom in hot water,’

‘Tea is the elixir of camaraderie, a sacred bond that unites our nations. We cannot stand idly by as such an outrageous proposal threatens the very foundation of our Special relationship.

‘Therefore we want to assure the good people of the UK that the unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not official United States policy. And never will be.

‘Let us unite in our steeped solidarity and show the world that when it comes to rea, we stand as one.’

The statement concluded with a cheeky remark that was guaranteed to stir the pot: ‘The US Embassy will continue to make tea in the proper way — by microwaving it.’

Diplomatic response from the UK

The very thought of microwaving tea is a horrific suggestion to tea purists. The UK cabinet was quick to answer: ‘In response, to the statement put out by the US Embassy in the UK: We appreciate our Special Relationship, however, we must disagree wholeheartedly… Tea can only be made using a kettle.’

The light-hearted exchange prompted lots of comments on social media. One brilliant post read: ‘Yo, the United States was founded by adding salt to tea.’ This came with a picture of infamous Boston tea party in 1773, in which demonstrators threw tea chests into Boston harbour in protest against the British tea tax.

Another commented: ‘”Polly put the microwave on” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.’

And in response to the debate one man shared his thoughts: ‘I see there are some fun sponges out there posting their snippy comments, sucking the joy out of life for everyone.

‘In a world of tensions and woe a little light humour like this is exactly what’s needed sometimes. I’ve enjoyed this!’

So if the idea of adding sodium chloride to Britain’s national drink isn’t your cup of tea, don’t panic, just take it with a pinch of salt.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.