Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Ancient Art of Tea Making

Not to be confused with the Japanese Art of Tea Ceremony, the Ancient Art of Tea Making is a highly ritualistic and political act, practised by interns and their bosses the world over.

Fact: It's never really about the tea.

Because, come on, practically anybody can make tea: it only has a maximum of 4 ingredients, one of which is hot water. No no my friend, when an intern is asked to make tea, they are engaging themselves in the far more subtle scenario that I like to refer to as "Power vs. Pleb"

Picture the scene: you've just come in from running an errand; in one hand you're holding the sack of bananas the boss has requested, and in the other an errant budgeriegard you've been requested to catch by an exec. It's been raining and so you're slightly damp, sporting "yanked through a hedge" chic. You finally sit down and beginning peeling the bananas and cutting them into bite-sized chunks as per request, when your supervisor turns to you and asks in a sickeningly sweet voice "Would you mind putting the kettle on, love?"

Why? Because they can.

Asking you to make tea reasserts the fact that, in the office chain of command, you are under their control. It reassures them that the work they are doing is so vital that only a cup of tea can save them, despite the fact that they are far too busy to make one for themselves. I mean, how necessary is a cup of tea that you can't find the time to switch the kettle on yourself?

Note that it is invariably the lower orders who make this request: usually the execs either have their own, specially hired "tea-making assistant," who's other duties including creating a human table on which to sign documents and checking their facebook, or are far enough removed from the power struggle not to waste their time quashing you.

Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to be asked to make tea for visitors, or meetings. These people are outsiders, you must create a good impression, and wouldn't it be awful to discover that they are one of the few people who actually don't know how to make tea?
Besides, how would they know where the kitchen is?
Likewise, if you're making tea for yourself, it looks pretty selfish not to at least offer to make a cup for those nearby and may even score you points within the office (I hear if you get 10 you actually get paid...or maybe just a gold star). Especially if you like the people you work with, offering a cup of tea is as much a sign of camaraderie as it is an acknowledgement that "jolly ho, we're British and always fancy a cuppa." Indeed, I worked with such wonderful people at the last development internship I did that I was always happy to make the mug, if not just to demonstrate how much I appreciated my position.
Being told to make tea is of course a very different kettle of fish from offering to do so, but either way the necessity to do so will probably come up at some point on a work placement, so I'm afraid the best thing to do is just grin and bear it, looking foward to the time when you will make it to the coveted position of "tea requestor."
Until that time, here are my three top tips for tea-making success:

1. Offer around to make tea as often as possible.
Firstly, as previously mentioned, you get far more kudos for offering to make tea: you appear kind, generous, and understanding of the fact that people in the work place need tea more than you previously thought possible. Even if you're actually a cold-hearted bitch, you can at least fool them with this simple trick.

2. When making large quantities of tea, go against the Debrett's School of Etiquette and go for Milk In First (otherwise known as being a MIF in polite tea-drinking circles)
This is for the simple, practical reason that it saves time. By putting milk in last, you have to wait for the kettle to boil, twiddling your thumbs and possibly engaging in awkward "ah yes, this kitchen is a bit small" banter with other coworkers. BUT if you put the milk in while the kettle is boiling, you are active whilst the kettle is boiling, plus saving the time you would have to spend adding the milk afterwards.
N.B. of course, if your work is really dull, you may want to waste time, in which case ingore my advice. Indeed, for maximum time-wasting, I recommending ignoring tip 2 and fulfilling tip 1 to the maximum: that way you may also get to use up supplies, thus gaining the added bonus of having to run to the shop to stock up.

3. Don't spit.
Ok do, a little. NO WAIT DON'T. I agree, when frustration reaches boiling point, just a tiny little spittle in the mug of that assistant you can't stand, or the manager who's just a little chippy can momentarily provide a wave of satisfaction. But take a look at yourself: what have you become? By turning into a spit-monster, you are merely reducing yourself to the level the you are always suspected to be by those in actual employment. Rise above it, my friend, and become the best damned tea-maker the world has ever known!
Happy drinking...!



  1. Ha, great post. I do hope you get a paid job soon but the future I think is start your own thing.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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