Some Famous Tea Expressions

Expressions about tea abound. Not surprising. Tea is becoming a bigger interest these days, from slogans on T-shirts to funny bumper stickers. And we humans tend to have our interests pop out through our vocabulary. They make our daily speech more interesting.

One of Lady Gaga’s many teacups
One of Lady Gaga’s many teacups

Probably the first expression that comes to mind immediately is this: “That’s not my cup of tea.” It means that the item is not what you usually prefer.

Some examples:

  • A friend invites you to a Lady Gaga concert. You reply, “Sorry, but she’s not my cup of tea.” (Aside: Just saw on YouTube her rendition of songs from “The Sound of Music” where she butchered them, and poor Julie Andrews was sitting in the audience enduring this. No wonder Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta had to market herself in a way to distract from her clearly poorly trained, or totally untrained, voice.)
  • The hostess at the dinner party hands you a dish of pickled squid. You suppress the urge to toss your cookies and then say, “Squid, pickled or otherwise, is not my cup of tea.”
  • You travel back in time to the private chambers of Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in Buckingham Palace, set your teacup down to excuse yourself for a little nose powdering (at the same time as several other ladies in attendance do), then return to the room. The Duchess hands you one of several matching teacups partially filled with tea. You say, “Sorry, that’s not my cup of tea.” (Hey, you knew I had to say it!)

Of course, this expression has a positive side. “That’s my cup of tea” is for those things you really like.

Other expressions:

  • “Not for all the tea in China” – That’s a lot of tea. There’s Keemun Panda, Oolongs, Tie Kuan Yin, Pai Mu Tan (White Peony), etc. … see what I mean? It usually indicates that someone is asking you to do something you don’t want to do. “Can I wash my car with your new Armani evening gown?” “Not for all the tea in China.” Hey, if someone wanted to give me all the tea in China, I’d have that gown off the hanger and in the bucket quick as a wink.
  • “Storm in a teacup” – Making a big issue out of a tiny one. A good example is the movie by that name with Rex Harrison and Vivien Leigh.
  • “Tempest in a teapot” – Making a totally humongous issue out of an absolutely miniscule one. Example: Getting into quite a row over which teapot to use … oh, wait, that’s totally justified … the teapot you use can make a real difference.
  • “About as useful as a chocolate teapot” – That’s pretty useless. Sort of like using a facial tissue to clean the snow and ice off your windshield.

On the other side of things, there are some expressions that should be about tea and could be interpreted that way:

Some expressions about tea have been mutated into expressions about other things. (All true — every word — I swear! Well, maybe not every word. Okay, so I made them up.) Here are a few:

  • “A penny for your thoughts” was “a cup of tea for your thoughts”
  • “A stitch in time saves nine” was “a cup of tea in time saves the tummy”
  • “A penny saved is a penny earned” was “a penny saved buys a cup of tea”

Interesting tidbits:

  • Tea Leaf is Cockney slang for Thief.
  • The acronym “TEA” abounds (250 at last count).© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

A few things to consider as you sip your cuppa!


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