Serving tea to a Middle Eastern visitor to my company?
March 2, 2017 2:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I serve tea to a visitor from the Middle East with a minimum of awkwardness?

My company is hosting a visitor from the UAE next week. He is familiar with my company, having spent 3 weeks with our employees at a jobsite in the UAE. When he arrives I would like to respect his preferences and provide him tea, but I don't know the first thing about tea customs in the UAE. My relationship with tea is pretty informal - I put a teabag in a giant mug and guzzle it down.

How should I provide tea to this visitor so I'm showing him hospitality without pandering? Should I bring in a teapot and some loose leaf tea? Have milk and sugar ready? Pour a cup for him and one for myself? What if there's like 10 people in the room, would it be odd if I poured tea for just him?

The last thing I want to do is to do some elaborate tea setup that misses the mark completely, but neither do I want to hand him my can of teabags and say "knock yourself out." I'm told he is an extremely nice guy, so I expect that if I do make a faux paus he's going to be very polite about it, however I want to make a good impression right away.
posted by zompus to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's no real "tea ceremony" equivalent, and probably he's pretty westernized, so I think it would be ok to just ask him if you could get him a cup of coffee or tea, and then do so -- you could ask how he takes it. The main focus is on the respect through hospitality thing, rather than cultural details.
posted by acm at 2:44 PM on March 2 [17 favorites]


Serve a bag of good tea (try Ceylon tea, the black kind) with a carafe of hot water, milk jug, a bowl of sugar or sugar cubes, teacup, saucer and spoon.

Most Westernized Middle Easterners will not expect elaborate tea setups. I grew up in the UAE, my grandfather had plenty of Arab friends and colleagues that would come over for tea on a regular basis. We never did anything more than what I just described. The key thing is to get "good" tea - strong flavor, fresh, and from a well-known supplier. Try to find some good Ceylon black tea.
posted by Everydayville at 2:56 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]


Get some bags of Orange Pekoe from Harney & Sons. (They also have some nice sugar cubes.) You could also probably get by with Republic of Tea British Breakfast or Irish Breakfast tea bags.
posted by gudrun at 3:42 PM on March 2


You are overthinking this a bit. If you were to visit the UAE, your hosts would presumably serve you according to their normal customs; you are free to do the same. Just extend the normal tea/coffee courtesies you would to a Western visitor. My authority on this comes from working in a number of countries with different hot beverage cultures.

(Side story! The only exception to this in my experience was the Israeli host who went out of his way to point out which was the instant coffee powder and which was the Turkish coffee powder (kafe botz). According to him, this was because a Famous American Politician You Have Definitely Heard Of got them confused and then sat grimacing through a meeting as he attempted to first dissolve and then chug an entire cup of coffee grounds.)
posted by whitewall at 4:26 PM on March 2 [11 favorites]


Explaining about the tea and explaining about the tea and being self-deprecating about the tea and maybe even going out for tea are al opportunities to engage warmly and informally with your guest and to let him know that got like him and care about his experience and comfort.
posted by amtho at 6:30 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but a carafe of hot water is not what you want for black tea. You want to pour boiling water over the leaves, or teabag if you must.
posted by zadcat at 7:06 PM on March 2 [12 favorites]


I agree with those who who say you're overthinking this. This is a guy on a work trip, not a refugee who will never see his homeland again. Just treat him as you would any other visiting colleague: offer him tea or coffee, ask if he has any special preferences, make sure sugar/ milk/ lemon are available if he wants them. He might well be a coffee drinker anyway.
posted by tavegyl at 7:40 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]


Serve what you would serve to any other visitor to your company. It doesn't even have to be tea. Coffee, cold drinks, whatever.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:27 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]


I am not 100% sure from your question .. but are you sure he actually prefers tea to coffee/water/soda? I am a tea lover myself, and sometimes still choose to drink water/coffee in meetings when it would be too awkward to deal with the tea. In order to enjoy my tea, I need A. boling water plus B. good quality black tea that is C. unflavored and served in D. a decent sized cup (small cups are just tantalizing) with E. a slice of lemon and a cube of sugar. I also need a proper saucer and somewhere other than my saucer to leave the tea bag. It can still get messy. There's a lot of fiddling with the stuff so when it's a more formal setting I pick coffee which is way simpler.
Kudoz to you for thinking of serving tea though. Mmmm!
posted by M. at 10:12 PM on March 2


How should I provide tea to this visitor so I'm showing him hospitality without pandering? Should I bring in a teapot and some loose leaf tea? Have milk and sugar ready? Pour a cup for him and one for myself? What if there's like 10 people in the room, would it be odd if I poured tea for just him?

You should offer him the same beverages you would anyone else. You should, however, have some sugar and creamers handy, since that's a customary way to take tea or coffee in the United States (are you in the US?) If you'd like to get a slightly nicer quality of teabag, go for it, but there's no need to try to guess at UAE tea customs. There are no dietary restrictions around caffeine for Muslims (if he is indeed Muslim) to worry about.

Consider, if you went to the UAE on business and they went to some fuss to offer you, like, a...two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew because the custom in the United States is to drink a ton of soda, wouldn't that be weird? Wouldn't you rather just have their tea or coffee or whatever they were having?

Anyway, it is absolutely not weird to bring his beverage of choice to him, pour tea for yourself, and not worry about the other 10 people in the room. It's typical to offer a guest something to drink and show hospitality by serving them, while assuming that everyone else who is "home" is on their own as usual.
posted by desuetude at 10:22 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but a carafe of hot water is not what you want for black tea. You want to pour boiling water over the leaves, or teabag if you must.

Yes! I am not a tea drinker myself, and haven't been around tea drinkers in a long while. In hindsight, boiling water is definitely what my grandparents and parents would use, poured over loose leaf black tea and then strained in a little strainer (you don't need to do all that!)
posted by Everydayville at 11:58 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]


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