After the somewhat brutal experience of tea drinking in the US, mitigated only by the patience and bemused support from friends and family, we enjoyed four days of intense tea consumption in the UK. We did not need to unpack our loose leafs or our tea filters, such was the availability of proper tea in every household. As we headed off to Stansted on a bright spring morning in mid-March, our minds raced ahead: do the Norwegians drink tea? And now we know: they don’t really drink it. They are quite happy to have a Curry Spice Ketchup fountain, but not to drink tea.
In Norway, our data was somewhat skewed by our host having spent much of her life visiting Britain, and her sister has lived outside Inverness for thirty-nine years. We learned this almost immediately upon arrival, as we were offered tea and instantly commented on the impressive selection.
“This is not a typical Norwegian larder, far from it,” is what we were told. Instead, the family has a small but unwavering Earl Grey supply line running from Scotland to not far outside Oslo, as well as a deviant interest in Spicy Chai, which is easily found at the local Co-Op. Their approach to making tea was far less precise than a truly British family would tolerate, however: boil the kettle, pour it over the tea bag in the mug, and drink after removing the bag. They did, though, have a genius contribution to the world of tea: perforated tongs with which to squeeze the bag. No liquid wasted!
When out exploring Oslo we were met with a more dismal attitude to tea. We stopped at the unpromisingly named Espresso House at the point when our feet were about to give out, and Vien asked what types of tea they had.
Unwilling to compromise in the face of such belligerence, we heaved ourselves up and out until we found a café with a wall of loose leaf tins (named Wayne’s Coffee, I kid you not). Their selection was: Grønn, chai, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, rooibos, and svart (black in Norwegian). Upon ordering a rooibos and an English Breakfast, they spooned out a paltry amount of leaves into a tea bag and poured on water from the dreaded Commercial Coffee Maker. This is no way to make a cup of tea, and is the same troubling indifference often seen in Spain. One cannot offer loose leaf but refuse to learn how to make it!
I went to locate a table and left Vien to complete the transaction, including the request for milk on the side.
“Melk?” The young man behind the counter was perplexed.
“Yes, some milk on the side, for the tea,” answered Vien, deciding to mime it for this poor Viking soul so even I could understand from across the room.
When Vien arrived, he delivered our two cup of tea and an even larger cup filled to the brim with cold melk: for my tea.
We later mentioned this to our hosts, who enlightened us: tea is not consumed with milk in Norway, never (perhaps because they primarily serve green tea?). The poor man at the café must have thought we were mad. Which, in a way, we were.
After our three days in Norway, it was time to head to the land of Thai Tea and my mouth was already dribbling in anticipation. But to hear about that, you’ll have to read the next entry…