Putting the kettle on

My Facebook friend, Amy Boucher-Pye of the Woman Alive Book Club on FB, has written a book (recommended) called “Finding Myself in Britain”. It’s a light-hearted Christian memoir about being an American living in Britain as the wife of a vicar, the resultant culture clashes, and her underlying trust in God.

Some of her many striking comments, of course, refer to the British love for a cup of tea.

Because many people in Britain associate tea with comfort, offering tea to someone becomes an act of hospitality – especially in this climate. A friend likened a British cup of tea as the equivalent to offering a cup of cold water in Biblical lands – in the respective cultures, both are a means to relax and revive…. Inviting someone round for a cuppa entails less commitment than an invitation to a meal… through it we can open our homes to strangers…” (pages 19-20)

Amy’s comments are very true. In any crisis, put the kettle on is my rule just as much as it is Mrs Weasley’s in Harry Potter. But I got thinking, and I wonder if things are changing just a bit.

How often do I, do you, have a cup of tea (or coffee) in someone else’s house?

I think for many people the honest answer would be “at housegroup”.

These days, if I just want to chat to a friend (in person!)… we go out. “D’you want to meet for coffee?” has now come to mean “which of the many hot-drink establishments on Beeston High St shall we patronise this time?”

Of course, if you and I are shopping together in the metropolis of Nottingham and we want sustenance, it is inevitable that we will call on the professionals.  But I live within five minutes’ walk of Beeston shops. Recently I met a friend who also lives within five minutes’ walk… and we adjourned to Mason and Mason.

Has the proliferation of coffee shops created the demand, or responded to it?

I’d better compile a LIST of possible reasons for the change… no, I’ll be just a little different, and just itemise the pros and cons.


  • It is vastly cheaper
  • It is more private
  • It is more intimate, in that you are sharing your home, crumby work-surface and all.


  • A coffee shop is brighter, cleaner and may well also be warmer
  • You can watch the world go by (the British equivalent of the European evening promenade through the town?)
  • I don’t want anyone to see the crumby work-surface or the drying underwear
  • High Streets today seem to consist largely of coffee shops and charity shops. Without our support, the High St will die! Support local business! Support jobs!
  • There is cake, as opposed to stale biscuit. And if you don’t want to buy a muffin or slice of carrot cake, you get the (chocolate) brownie points for strongmindedly refusing.
  • At home I don’t have a varied enough menu. Yes, this may be it. Gone are the days when “would you like a drink?” meant “tea or coffee”? Which of us would dare now make such an offer without being able to offer all of the following: coffee, tea, decaffeinated coffee, decaffeinated tea, “proper” coffee, redbush or herbal tea, ice-cold water and fruit juice/squash? And, for the younger generation, lemonade or Coke? Even if we could offer all these, and I certainly can’t, we might think the guest was secretly hankering after deluxe hot chocolate or chai latte, my own guilty pleasure. (Also, I well remember a glamorous American TV show some time ago, when a guest was offered “a drink”, and both parties assumed this meant alcohol.)
  • …It may be too privateWe’re so used to supping at the Bean or wherever that our homes become again like our castles. If you invite someone in, they may start to cry. Or not know when to leave.

I’m frankly a bit shocked to find some of these reasons in myself. Especially at my assumption that the minor convenience of the coffee shop justifies the extravagance, and it really on any sensible view is an extravagance. And yet the reasons aren’t false.

So next time you suggest a drink to me, expect even more than the usual dither about where to go…

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS You will notice that I have used the term “coffee shop” most of the way through, although I’m mainly thinking about TEA. Such is the weird world of the Briton. Is “cafe” too old-fashioned? “Cofftea”?

  • Malachi Malagowther

    28th October 2016 at 5:41 pm Reply

    When I ask my wife if she wants a drink the dithering is mainly about deciding whether it should be partaken of in the dining room or sitting room or just standing up in the kitchen. One of the benefits of the coffee shop is that it gets you out of the house: you don’t want to be cooped up at home all day like a mother with small children. I like to have a cup of chai latte at home but I’m not sure how much that’s because I’m a tight-fisted former resident of Aberdeen or am out at work all week and glad to come back to the nest.

    • Jeanette

      9th January 2017 at 12:14 am Reply

      I’d veuntre that this article has saved me more time than any other.

  • Clint Redwood

    29th October 2016 at 7:06 am Reply

    I note the reference to “tea, coffee, decaf tea, decaf coffee, ‘proper’ coffee”, by which I assume that you mean by options 2 and 4 you mean, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, a drink almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coffee. By option 5 you just mean coffee.

    When you are a coffee drinker, you are less likely to receive a coffee at someone’s home than a drink of brown liquid, and hence to suggest drinking out where you can be certain of receiving coffee, reduces the risk of embarrassment when offered a drink you would not wish to consume.

    As to extravagance, the tea drinker can be forgiven for feeling that paying someone to put a tea bag in a cup with some hot water, as at many chain coffee shops, is an unnecessary expense, but where high quality loose leaf tea is used as at some of the independent shops, this is equally a very different drink to the PG one might have at home.

    • Delia

      9th January 2017 at 12:39 am Reply

      Great intghis! That’s the answer we’ve been looking for.

Post a Comment