tea cup with bagImagine that we go to a café together. You order coffee and I order tea. If it is a decent café you will be served a full-bodied espresso with a nice thick crema. I, on the other hand, am served a glass of boiled water and a bag of Lipton Yellow Label, still in its wrapping.

If I order a sandwich I am not expected to prepare it myself. If I order a banana split I am not given ice cream, banana and chocolate sauce so that I can put the dish together at the table. So why am I expected to prepare my own tea? The coffee at a café or restaurant is not always of perfect quality but it is decent, and any self-respecting establishment invests in a good coffee machine. Meanwhile tea drinkers are expected to pay 2.50 Eur for a cup of water and a tea bag.

Ok, I accept that creating a perfect cup of tea for each customer can be quite demanding. In Finland (the nation of the biggest coffee consumers in the world) tea drinkers protested against their unfair treatment. Cafés modified their behaviour, but the result is a pot of tea that stands for hours on a heating plate becoming bitter. Asking the busy staff to ensure that each individual cup of tea is steeped for the exactly right amount of time would be too inefficient.

One solution would be for cafés to use machines for making tea. Such contraptions do exist, even though I had not actually heard of any before I decided to look it up on Google.  I would imagine it working somewhat like this:

One puts a cup under the tea dispenser and presses a button. The tea-machine then lowers a strainer with a portion of tea leaves into the cup and fills the cup with water. After the correct steeping time the strainer lifts out of the cup, and the machine gives a signal to alert whoever is preparing the tea to the fact that it is done. One could programme the machine so that it adjusts the water temperature and steeping time to the type of tea, which one can select by pressing the correct button, just like one can choose espresso, cappuccino etc. on any normal coffee machine.

A machine is not the ideal solution, I admit. Part of a perfect cup of tea is the human touch and consideration put into making it. Will tea from a machine ever taste as good? Perhaps I will just stick to my policy of mainly drinking tea at home, except when I can go to a proper tea room, where tea is made with the love and attention it deserves.

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