There have been more severe transatlantic bust-ups over a brew, such as the American Revolution, but few can have been quite so twee. Nearly 250 years after the Boston Tea Party, the British ambassador in Washington and her US counterpart in London are going at it over how to make a decent hot drink. And by Wednesday evening, the conflict was spilling over into mainland Europe.
Like many tense diplomatic standoffs, it began with a deliberate provocation. An American TikTok user going by the name of Michelle from North Carolina posted a video showing how to make what she describes as “hot tea”, which entails mixing milk with powdered lemonade, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and Tang, which turns out to be a soft drink.
As an afterthought she dunked a teabag, and then put the whole thing in the microwave. Her subsequent attempt at “British tea” involved cold water first. The British internet lost its marbles.
Michelle from North Carolina, who actually lives in Britain and has proven herself to be a supremely effective wind-up merchant with follow-ups including her recipe for “UK eggs” – don’t ask – quickly amassed 5m TikTok likes. Meanwhile, the UK’s powerful ability to get on its high horse about elevenses kicked into gear.
Phillip Schofield did a bit on This Morning. Davina McCall described it as a “call to war”. Inevitably, Dame Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to Washington – who holds an MSc in international strategy and diplomacy from the LSE, has served in the Foreign Office for 39 years and is a former president of the UN security council – was obliged to weigh in.
She posted a viral video of her own on Monday, explaining that “the Anglo-American relationship is defined by tea”, a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 that eventually led to US independence.
Then, in what Twitter banter enthusiasts viewed as a thrilling escalation, she threw to three branches of the armed forces, who took it in turns to demonstrate how to make what one Royal Navy sailor called a “proper British cup of tea”.
Christopher Hitchens, the late, great transatlantic writer who published a 2011 piece bemoaning the impossibility of finding a decent brew in the US – “It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate,” he moaned – would surely have approved. The war, Pierce must have presumed, was over.
If so, she reckoned without the cunning of the US ambassador in London, Woody Johnson, who recognised the impossibility of his position on the tea front and quickly shifted his forces to a classic British weakness: coffee.
“I’m going to make an American cup of coffee, the way I make it every day, responding to Ambassador Pierce’s perfect cup of tea and her instructions,” he deadpanned, allowing his host nation’s collective anxiety about not really understanding the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white to do its own work.
The perfect cup of coffee, Ambassador @KarenPierceUK https://t.co/oEbSJNE2qw pic.twitter.com/LfGE5w5Dc0
He proceeded to pour a bottle of water into a kettle, stick a spoon of instant coffee in a mug, splash in some milk and say “have a nice day”. If he then told his social media assistant that no, he didn’t have time for a second take, he had some chlorinated chicken to sell, history did not record the interaction.
Johnson’s intervention appears to have stunned his British counterpart into silence for the time being. But there may now be questions as to whether he had committed a serious strategic error, by making, to put it bluntly, what looked like a terrible cup of coffee. On Wednesday evening, a source at the Italian embassy asked for a view on the US video replied: “What he made was American coffee. And I stress… American coffee.” In winning one war, it appears that Johnson may have inadvertently started another.
This content was originally published here.