The Office Tea Round Is Dead, And We Mourn It With Mixed Emotions

Chipped mugs, huge rounds and insipid brews are no more. Still, we'll miss it.
Dimitri Otis via Getty Images

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Nothing unites British office workers quite like a shared caffeine addiction, but Covid-19 has brought a new dawn of remote working and unprecedented hygiene standards.

We waved goodbye to the silent 10am stand-off, where parched colleagues wait to see who’ll crack and offer that first bumper round. We haven’t whispered ‘anyone for tea?’ for months (half hoping not to be heard). And the impossible conundrum – juggle eight mugs and burn your hands as the scalding liquid sloshes the sides, or make four trips from the kitchen to the desk – is no more.

The office tea round is dead – and we mourn it with mixed emotions.

We used to internally grimace when anyone ordered anything that wasn’t plain builder’s – but now, Susan’s Earl Grey with soya and half a sugar isn’t looking so bad. In fact, we religiously committed preferences to memory and took pride in getting it right, it’s almost sad to see that knowledge become redundant.

What we won’t miss, however, is the pure disappointment when a colleague isn’t so conscientious – when you sip and realise they’ve forgotten your sugar, or an insipid substance is plopped under your nose.

The chipped, mismatched cups that never quite looked clean can also fade into the past, thank you very much. Ditto the questionably stained teaspoons.

And nothing is more gutting than when the brew you were offered – right when you needed it – is forgotten, because your colleague got side-tracked with, well, actual work.

“The chipped, mismatched cups that never quite looked clean can fade into the past, thank you very much.”

But for all its faults, the tea round punctuated the working day into manageable chunks. It gave us the nudge we needed to look away from our screens and talk to one another about something other than work.

Those moments of shared giggles or united frustrations when a colleague ambled over to the kettle for a natter will be cherished. So too, will the times someone noticed you were stressed and delivered the perfect brew – no questions asked. And if someone offered you a chocolate digestive on a particularly tough day, you knew you’d made a friend for life.

Through a shared cuppa, you realise that somewhere between the endless meetings, tight deadlines, promotion successes and disappointments, you and your colleagues became firm allies.

In some ways, the office tea round is a bit like the National Lottery: most of the time you lose, but the occasional small win makes it worthwhile. We love to hate it – an extension of our feelings about office work in general, perhaps – but without it, the working day will never be quite the same.