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Not my cup of tea: Spat over hot drinks brews between U.S., U.K. ambassadors

Britain's ambassador to the U.S. and her American counterpart trade jibes on Twitter about hot drink recipes.
Image: British tea
A couple share a cup of tea in London. AzmanJaka / Getty Images

LONDON — Almost 250 years after the Boston Tea Party, trouble is again brewing between the United States and the United Kingdom over the hot drink.

This time it is unlikely to inspire a full-blown revolution, but it has sparked a public but very diplomatic difference of opinion between the British ambassador to the U.S. and her American counterpart in London.

It all began when an American woman posted a video demonstrating how to make “hot tea or British tea” on the social media site TikTok. The woman, posting under the username “jchelle36,” describes herself as an “American living in the U.K.” On Instagram, she says her name is Michelle.

Her demonstration did not win her fans in the U.K., to say the least, and comments flooded in.


Americans making hot tea 🍵 ##americanintheuk @mleemaster10

♬ original sound - jchelle36

One said referred to "having a heart attack,” another called it “a crime,” while many branded it “watery milk.”

It is not the first time "jchelle36" has caused controversy with one of her videos, which are clearly designed as a joke. She has elicited a similar response to her recipe for "U.K. eggs."

But this time, the diplomats decided it was time to weigh in on the controversy threatening to mar the otherwise robust transatlantic alliance.

Dame Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the U.S. and the former president of the United Nations Security Council, responded with a video of her own, posted to Twitter.

She explained the “Anglo-American relationship is defined by tea" — referring to the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

The direct action led by the Sons of Liberty in Boston against the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea in the American colonies without paying taxes, was one of the contributing factors to the American Revolution, that eventually saw the 13 colonies defeat Britain and establish the United States.

Pierce's video featured three branches of Britain’s armed forces, who all made what a Royal Navy sailor called “a proper cup of tea.”

But if she thought that was the end of the matter, she was sorely mistaken, as Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., responded with a video of his own.

“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 said.

He then poured a bottle of water into a kettle, put a spoon of instant coffee into a mug, before adding a dash of milk.

“Have a nice day,” he said.

Pierce has yet to respond, but the lighthearted spat comes at a tricky time for the alliance, which after decades of nurturing by presidents and prime ministers, is enduring some of its toughest tests.

With economic uncertainty hanging over Britain after its departure from the European Union, a process known as Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs the U.K.'s old ally more than ever to forge a new free trade deal.

The country has seen its currency plummet and its AAA credit rating wiped out. It also faces the prospect of tariffs and trade restrictions from the E.U.

Under President Donald Trump, meanwhile, relations with traditional allies in Europe have grown strained with him testing long-held norms and exiting broadly supported international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.