As I sip some tea and watch the World Cup, I think I understand why Americans have been so slow to warm up to soccer – or football, as the rest of the world calls it.  Americans generally like things clear cut – black or white, yes or no.  No ambiguity – give us the instant replay and move on.  But in soccer, things are a little fuzzier.  Goals are disallowed for reasons unknown; penalties are called with no explanation.  There is a bewildering array of nuances to the rules of the game – and most Americans just don’t do well with shades of gray.

Perhaps this is also why Americans don’t drink as much tea as the rest of the world.  Compared to coffee, which is pretty straightforward (ignoring, for the moment, the option of a half-caff no-foam non-fat latte), tea has what can be a bewildering array of options, all with their own set of rules.  Want to take advantage of green tea’s health benefits?  Great!  But what if you find that the green tea in a tea bag that you got from the grocery store tastes bitter when you brew it with boiling water and leave the tea bag in for 10 minutes?  Are you going to assume that possibly you brewed it incorrectly, and didn’t start with the best tea in the world in the first place?

No, you’ll probably just conclude that you don’t like green tea.  Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend who can show you how wonderful green tea can be, help you find a particular type that you like, use good-quality loose tea, and brew it for the right time and at the right temperature, you may not experiment with it again.  It’s like watching soccer – if you don’t understand the game completely (I still haven’t quite figured out when someone is offside), you probably won’t enjoy it as much.  But if you have someone to explain some of the more arcane rules to you, you may just catch the fever and be a soccer fan for life.  You might even start calling it “football”!

So as tea fans, we can do our part by explaining the “rules of tea” to new tea drinkers, simply, clearly, one step at a time.  Get them hooked on one tea first and then draw them in to some of the more unusual varieties, and show them how wonderful they can be.  Don’t overwhelm them with all the information at once.  Gently guide them down the path to an all-abiding love of tea.

Just as it seems to be a great moment for soccer to explode in the U.S. – people across the country were living and dying with the US team in this year’s matches – I think it’s also a great moment for tea to become the beverage of choice for millions of Americans.  People seem to be warming up to tea’s incredible nuances of flavor, and accepting the initially bewildering number of rules that go with brewing a great cup of tea.

So I raise a cup of tea to the World Cup teams to thank them for helping to make things that are a little complicated and somewhat fuzzy more palatable for people everywhere!