In Which I Give In To A Tea Menace


I had been looking around the tea aisle because, as mentioned, I’m one of those people, and came across an honestly menacing and quite large box of a brand I hadn’t heard of before. It proclaimed its contents to be Make Mine A Builders Tea, “Britain’s Cuppa”, and as you can see from the picture if I don’t forget to include it, it’s got the styling of hazard signs warning you that the road is going to be torn up and there’s going to be dug-up roadbeds and people wielding things that make sparks at what sure looks like the waffle iron ordinarily hidden underneath the asphalt.

A box of 'Mike Mine a Builders' tea bags, with a warning that Britain wasn't built on camomile.
A box of ‘Make Mine A Builders’ tea bags. Note the plush toy bunny in the background peering over the table to see what’s going on.

I’m not seriously ashamed to admit it’s the first time I’ve been intimidated by a box of tea, because its cover copy suggests that if I don’t buy it they’ll send a pack of football hooligans over to wallop me silly and stuff tea bags down my pockets. It warns, “Britain wasn’t built on camomile”, and further that “Fancy, frilly, flowery teas are all very well. But to get through a busy day, us Brits need a strong, satisfying brew. The type that gets right to the heart of your thirst.” I should point out I’m not a Brit, although I have spent nearly a whole week in England, where I enjoyed a visit to the Blackpool Pleasure Beach amusement park on an early July day nearly hot enough that the carbon dioxide wasn’t liquefying out of the air and raining down on us. It wasn’t a day for the water rides, due to icebergs.

The tea goes on to explain how making a proper tea is much like a sturdy building. Much like tea, you construct buildings by putting a bag full of building parts into a large pot of hot water and then, after a while, taking them out again, and finding there’s nowhere you can put the bag that won’t leave a puddle of mis-colored water where you don’t want it, and it’s starting to burn your hands, so you scoot over to the trash bin and try to toss it in cleanly, and miss. This is why so many suburban developments have to have swooping, curved roads, so that the houses look like they were built street-facing.

It’s the comparison to camomile as a particularly un-manly tea that’s got me, not least because who knew that tea was really missing gender essentialism, somehow? But a while back I was tossing out a box of Celestial Seasonings Tummy Mint Wellness tea, which probably would make the Builders Tea people explode if they heard about it, and I noticed on the back an actual, honest-to-goodness, somewhat alarming warning:

WARNING: If you are taking prescription medication, or are pregnant or nursing, consult your health care provider prior to using this product. Persons with allergies to the daisy family may be sensitive to chamomile.

Also apparently chamomile is a kind of daisy, and there’s different ways to spell it. The thing is while Builders seems ready to send roving packs of b’hoys wielding cudgels and shouting things like “Oi!” at people not drinking manly enough teas, apparently it’s conceivable you could end up in hospital with a severe case of chamomile. It’s not everyone who can say their life was endangered by the Celestial Seasonings corporation, at least besides the people who have to actually pick the tea leaves, and Celestial Seasonings probably subcontracts that job out to some company whose actions they can plausibly deny anyway. But then b’hoys were a 19th-century Bowery thing, out of place and somewhat anachronistic for modern Britain, so everybody’s on an equal footing again.

But the discovery that chamomile might be the world’s most dangerous tea not actually regularly containing guncotton was surprising, although not so surprising as if it actually exploded out from under me. Particularly I wondered why about eight percent (by volume) of the Internet and the columns of Dear Crazy Abby wasn’t entirely warnings about tea. I mentioned this on Usenet and a friend helpfully pointed out that according to Google, there were 3,750,000 matches for “Chamomile warnings” compared to 7,350,000 for “Snooki”. I suppose tea being half as threatening as Snooki is about the right balance of things. But I get completely different numbers trying it now, with much more concern about Snooki and far less about chamomile, so either we as a society have come to peace with tea recently or Google’s decided we need to stop asking questions about chamomile.

The Builders tea was fair enough, by the way. I haven’t seen another box since.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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