Monday, December 13, 2010

Tea drinking, the final frontier.

By Jess Hodges

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot.”

For those of you who have no idea where that quote comes from I apologise, you're about to become slightly geekier than you were when you started reading this post. That is the standard request made by Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the SS Enterprise when getting a drink from the replicators. There, now you know some Star Trek trivia.

For captain Picard a cup of tea in space is a recognisable and civilised affair, the reality is slightly different. In 2003 astronaut Don Pettit was filmed enjoying his tea on board the international space station. He observed the old Russian tradition of having it with honey and the new outer space tradition of eschewing a cup in favour of chopsticks. Fluids act slightly differently in zero gravity, their surface tension causing them to form balls which if you're careful you can apparently manipulate with chopsticks, plucking them out of the air.

It's not surprising that human beings would take tea with them into space, it's so ubiquitous, so important to so many cultures that the step from international to extra terrestrial seems inevitable. It leaves tantalising scope to imagine what kinds of new tea drinking traditions could be emerging up there above earth's atmosphere. Specialised tea cups used for scooping balls of tea out of the air, teapots with spouts that open and close automatically to release the liquid in manageable quantities, an array of bite sized floating biscuits that can be plucked from the air alternately with the tea, ornate tea chopsticks and probably a large napkin would be in order.

We're not quite at the replicator stage and you probably don't want it too hot given that it's going to be floating about with you but at least we can have Earl Grey for the captain.