Cum­ber­batch’s storm over a teacup

The Guardian - G2 - - News - Dan Ku­per

When is tea not tea? That is, inar­guably, a ques­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Sher­lock ac­tor and ex­cep­tion­ally un­likely sex sym­bol Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, it’s when it comes in a fey lit­tle sa­chet and smells of newly mown lawn. “Shall

I re­ally vent now? I’m sick of camomile tea be­ing called tea,” said Cum­ber­batch – sound­ing a lit­tle like he had drunk too much cof­fee – on Ab­so­lute Ra­dio’s break­fast show, be­fore de­lin­eat­ing at some length the sci­en­tific rea­sons why camomile, and other herbal drinks, shouldn’t be called tea.

His ar­gu­ment boiled down to the propo­si­tion that “tea is a drink made from the tea plant”, so drinks made from other plants are not tea, which is fair and makes sense, as long as you agree that the mean­ing of a word can never change or adapt and must re­main the same for all eter­nity. Does Cum­ber­batch keep Hol­ly­wood par­ties rapt as he ex­plains why “dec­i­mate” can only be used to mean “re­duce by 10%” and “bach­e­lor” ac­tu­ally means a young knight?

But if we are to take him at his word, we need an al­ter­na­tive. The most ac­cu­rate would be “herbal in­fu­sion”, which is a bit of a mouth­ful. Ac­cord­ing to tea ex­perts, the in­dus­try jar­gon to de­scribe camomile and its kind is “ti­sane”, which is just “herbal in­fu­sion” in French. But since no­body uses the word “ti­sane”, aside from up­tight ex­perts and, very pos­si­bly, newly mous­ta­chioed ac­tors with films to pro­mote, it seems churl­ish to com­plain about the word “tea” be­ing re­pur­posed for a drink that you do make, af­ter all, in quite a sim­i­lar way to tea.

Had Cum­ber­batch’s rant gone be­yond se­man­tics, a more ac­cu­rate and re­lat­able case against a cup of camomile tea would be the foul aroma and gen­eral sense of men’s uri­nals that goes with it. While camomile “ti­sane” is sup­pos­edly a nat­u­ral rem­edy for in­flam­ma­tion, anx­i­ety and in­som­nia, any po­ten­tial ben­e­fits are hugely out­weighed by the whole “Am I ac­tu­ally drink­ing my own wee?” vibe. In fact, there are web­sites that will tell you that urine, too, is a nat­u­ral rem­edy for in­flam­ma­tion, anx­i­ety and in­som­nia – you could just skip the mid­dle­man, if you were so in­clined. Cum­ber­batch would hope­fully ap­prove, so long as you don’t call it “tea”.

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