Earl Grey Tea

Brand: 7-11 Premium

Cost: 100 yen

Found At: 7-11

When I bought this, I did not know what it was. This is the great danger of the Japanese foreign-word phonetic alphabet: without spaces or accents or kanji characters, it can sometimes be very hard to parse what is being spelled. Emil often complains to me how different the Japanese phonetic spelling is from the original English words. While a native speaker of English might be able to pick it out, listening for a second language word in a third language alphabet is quite the linguistic feat.

I knew at least that this was a tea. It was in the tea section, and it had a tea leaf on it – both useful contextual clues. But even with the extra information, I could not for the life of me figure out what they meant by “aarugurei” – which was embarrassing because thought I knew the language. I tried a couple different combinations: a-rugurei, arugu-rei, arugure-I – nothing rang any bells. I finally decided that it must be an Indian word that I wouldn’t know anyway. This would have to be one of those experiences of stepping into the unknown and discovering something new.

And when I finally fished the bottle out of my backpack, I discovered something wonderful. Citrusy with just a hint of bergamot, this tea was like a fruit juice dreaming of Regency. It was sweet and light and refreshing, without any of the usual bitterness of tea, and I was completely enamored. And as I sat in the heat of downtown Nagoya, sipping on my tea under the shade of a wilting tree, I began to feel a little colonialist. It’s the kind of tea you imagine being served in the long drawing-rooms of British India – so well blended, that you can only conclude that someone must be being oppressed to make it. And that’s when it hit me. What kind of tea makes every cup feel like a Downton Abbey garden party?

Aaru-gurei – it must be Earl Grey.

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