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Thursday, 25 November 2010


 Late April 2004

A young man is wandering the hallways of O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. It is his first visit to the USA. After a long flight, and further period processing through immigration, he is very thirsty and desperate for a cup of tea in the fast-vanishing minutes before boarding another flight to Seattle. He is about to discover two inconvenient truths.

1) Sales Tax* messes up every retail purchase for someone used to paying the price shown on an item.
2) Americans don't understand tea.

I was that young man.

As soon as possible after landing in Seattle and meeting up with Beth, I bought a small travel kettle at a Target store. I already had my own teabags in my suitcase, so for the rest of that trip and further visits over the next five years, with Beth passing through the stages of friend, girlfriend, fiance and eventually wife, I was able to brew my own tea, though slowly as the travel kettle would take many minutes to boil. Milk was occasionally a problem, as pints are nearly unheard of, quarts and gallons being the more usual US measure. Just once I was able to get a 1/4 pint of skimmed milk at McDonalds. Most US motels and hotels have a mini-fridge, but I'd usually have to discard unused milk in the morning and get a fresh carton the next evening when we were on roadtrips.

Fast forward to Autumn 2009, and I'm preparing for a permanent move to the US, so I stock up on Typhoo Teabags from the local Pound Store, at 1p a bag. I buy about 25 GBP of tea, most going in our shipped supplies, and enough packed in my suitcase to last until the shipping arrives. It's not that you can't buy tea in the US, but it is more expensive, presumably due to some form of tax. I calculated that at my usual rate of use, I'd have about six months supply, and then I'd have to fall back on the local offerings.

Oops. Due to a slight miscalculation, or maybe a reduction in my tea drinking, I still have about 1,000 bags remaining which are too stale to make a good cuppa. These are how I packed them for shipping, 50 bags in a foil wrap, each in a separate ziplock bag.

So now I have to buy tea in the US, and I've discovered the option most similar to my UK preference. These retail at around $2.50 a box of 80.

* There is no Sales Tax in Oregon.


  1. I've just been catching up on your blog Martin - you write so well and it is great fun to compare notes. I have just written an entry in my blog about our experience in trying to adopt a cat. If you read it maybe you'll understand why I just can't stop laughing over the whole episode. Maybe we should have shipped Slinki over after all.

  2. "It's not that you can't buy tea in the US, but it is more expensive, presumably due to some form of tax."

    As an American, I find this very funny, as taxes on Tea was one of the better advertised factors in the American revolution. I think it's more a economics issue. There is just not enough demand for tea here, (as most American caffeine addicts drink soda or coffee) so the shops don't get good volume discounts on it.

    I'm looking for a good source of tea myself at the moment. The lovely Cheng Feng Jasmine Green loose leaf tea my student gave me is running low...