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 got, (drum roll, please)… a kettle!
Any Brits reading this will be asking themselves how we made our tea before now. How could you live without one?
Well, first of all, let me just explain a thing or two about tea culture in Spain… or rather the lack thereof. 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. You only occasionally see them drink tea, but 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 were 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 names like “Westminster” and “Pickwick”, 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 that inevitably runs out I have a lovely British colleague who will always have a spare bag of happiness for me.
But anyway, you must still be wondering, 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 did we need a kettle for? We already had a microwave. Surely, a kettle was just another piece of kitchen junk we could do without? Who would clean it? Would people actually use it?
Nevertheless, it was ordered, and a day later our Amazon delivery arrived containing our small, but perfectly functional kettle.
There was much excitement and I found myself bombarded with questions about this new kitchen device:
Would the kettle keep the water hot like a flask?
How much water should go in the kettle?
Was this the same kind of kettle that we would 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.)
After answering a barrage of questions – no, it wouldn’t keep the water hot, you should put in as much water as you need for your (tiny) Spanish tea cup, 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 have been singing its praises ever since. “Ooo, it’s really quick isn’t it?!”, “The water gets really hot, doesn’t it?!”… In short, they’ve been introduced to the joys of using a device fit for the purpose of making tea and are now proficient kettle users.
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 milk into his tea 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. At least they aren’t as bewildered as a Spaniard I knew from my student days who had never seen a kettle and was caught shoving spaghetti into it in a vain attempt to cook it, and inevitably proceeded to ask his dumbfounded flatmates why this wasn’t working as he intended.
So, in summary, the kettle has been a big hit and my colleagues know how to make tea now, 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 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!