British foods at Rose Tree Cottage, Pasadena

A box of tea bags is the food item most likely to be found stashed inside the suitcases of British travelers going abroad. 

I found this fascinating bit of gourmet triva while reading the Daily Mail at breakfast in London a few weeks back. A survey of shoppers discovered that nearly two-thirds of Brits tuck a few of their favorite foods alongside their swimsuits when they travel outside the motherland. 

Other can’t-live-without-you comfort foods include biscuits (cookies), instant coffee, crips (chips), brown sauce, dried noodles, and ketchup. 

What! No Marmite?  

I ran this shopping list by a few English friends at Sunday lunch in Winchester back in August. They weren’t surprised by the items that were mentioned. However, my dining companions would have chosen orange marmalade over brown sauce. I agree.

The story reminded me of the time when a British couple visited our former tea house nearly 20 years ago. They were quite disappointed with my exhaustive list of premium loose teas. The weary travelers had been in the colonies for nearly a month and their super size box of PG Tips had run out the day before. 

They didn’t know how they would survive the coming three days before boarding a plane back to London – and the familiar tea aisles at Tesco.

Taylors of Harrogate is one of the largest tea packers in the UK.

Fortunately, a distributor at the New York Fancy Food Show had given me a box of PG Tips the previous week. I had tucked it in the back of the pantry thinking I would never use it. 

After assuring my guests that I could remedy their dilemma, I returned to the table with a piping hot teapot filled with over steeped English tea bags. 

To them, it was mother’s milk.

Brodies is one of the oldest Scottish tea companies, founded in 1867.

As a token of proper international relations, I presented my new friends with the entire box of PG Tips tea bags which would carry them through the remainder of their journey. 

They left with terrific smiles on their faces for they had found a bit of real British culture in Kentucky. (Never mind the inconsequential fact that Her Majesty boards her thoroughbreds down the road.)

But I confess that I too am guilty of packing a few favorite things when I travel outside the US. I always take a tin of single estate Assam tea – no tea bags – and a bottle of premium Kentucky bourbon. 

With those two items in tow, I can begin and end each day in good spirits! 

Read more about how tea changed British and American culture in A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TEA.

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