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Before Adele's Grammy Controversy, There Was The Great Tea Squabble

Adele performs onstage during the Grammy Awards on February 12, 2017.closemore
Adele performs onstage during the Grammy Awards on February 12, 2017.

After her glorious Grammy sweep on Sunday night, Adele woke up to a #BoycottAdele hashtag, with many Beyoncé fans questioning her "unfair" win over their idol. But calls for a boycott are scarcely new for Adele. Last year, after she endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, Trump supporters launched a similar hashtag. Buffeted by the competitive politics of the right and left, the English singer will likely think longingly back to the uncomplicated very first #BoycottAdele hashtag that trended briefly in 2015 after the release of her hit single "Hello."

It had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with tea.

The millions of fans who have watched the music video of "Hello" know that a steaming cup of tea has a central role to play in providing succor to the singer's lovesick heart.

Artfully stained with sepia and loss, the retro video opens with a deeply depressed Adele walking into a shut-up house enrobed in dustcovers. Outside, it's wickedly cold and blustery. Inside (her broken heart) the temperature's pretty tundra-like too. So while she lavishly mourns the loss of her coffee-drinking lover in song, Adele does what the English do when things look bleak. She pops the kettle on. There's a delicately patterned china cup and saucer waiting to be filled. So far, so good.

Then, the singer does something absolutely shocking. She pours hot water into the cup and then pops in a tea bag. Instead of the other way around, of course. This casual switching of steps was an outrage and nothing short of tea treason. British twitter sputtered with indignation.

How reassuringly English. A country that has fought two opium wars with China to protect its precious tea supply takes the beverage very seriously.

Ask the man who is the au courant hero, George Orwell. He may have fought totalitarianism all his life, but when it came to making a pot of tea, it was his way or the highway. His popular essay, "A nice cup of tea," is an 11-point disquisition on how to achieve just that. Orwell would have been horrified by Adele's – and the modern streamlined style of – tea-making. Not merely by the presence of a teabag but by the absence of a teapot. "If the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly," he declaimed. In order to get a good infusion, one "should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours."

As for that other great anti-totalitarian Brit, John Lennon, he could imagine a world without heaven and religion, but not without tea – brewed the right way, of course. A few years ago, his widow, Yoko Ono, wrote a piece for The New York Times called "The Tea Maker," in which she affectionately recalled their midnight tea-making kitchen trysts. "Yoko, Yoko, you're supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water," John would admonish her. And so Ono allowed him to make the tea his way. But, for tea purists, there's an unfortunate twist to this story. As Ono tells it:

One night, however, John said: "I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but ..."

"So all this time, we were doing it wrong?"

"Yeah ..."

We both cracked up...

So Adele should take heart. She has the great Beatle on her side. But though once a committed tea drinker, Adele has given up her 10-cups-a-day habit. Not because of the tea trolls but because of the pounds she was putting on from the heavily sugared cups.

Meanwhile, her "Hello" video has launched a range of "Hello, it's tea" merchandise and several cheeky parodies, including changing the soulful line of Lionel Richie's 1983 hit, "Hello," to "Hello, is it tea you're looking for?" In another very funny send-up, an English radio presenter rewrote the lyrics to make tea the star. So instead of belting out "Hello from the other side," we have:

Where the hell's my cup of tea?

My ginger nut needs dunking see

Have you even turned the kettle on?

I should have had it by now

But all my biscuits are gone

I love tea

It's me and tea.

On Sunday night, after an awkward, overwrought but sincere-sounding acceptance speech in which she nervously lavished praise on Beyoncé, Adele accidentally broke her trophy in half. As if it were a ginger nut biscuit she was dying to dunk into a cup of tea. With all of those boycott hashtags, she could certainly do with a cuppa.

Nina Martyris is a journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Copyright NPR 2017.

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