Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Episode 223: Not My Cup of Tea

 This week Shauna and Dan explore the phrase "not my cup of tea". Bonus: The silk road, black drag culture, and the age old question: Sunrise or Sunset?

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 223: Not My Cup of Tea
Record Date: January 28, 2024
Air Date: February 7, 2024


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
I think everyone has their favorite homemade treat. My absolute favorite is banana bread. It’s perhaps simple but it makes me feel like the whole world is going to be okay. I’ve learned however, that some people add walnuts to their banana bread. And I gotta say, that is just not my cup of tea.


To say that something is Not One’s Cup of Tea is used as a gentle way to express that the person doesn’t like or want to do something. It could refer to an activity as in,

“Do you want to go to see this scary movie with me?”
“Nah. Scary movies aren’t really my cup of tea.”

Or sometimes it’s used in reference to a person.

“He’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I really like him.”

Before we get into the history of this phrase, I want to address the history of its subject - tea. Here is a great overview from the article “Cultural Selection: The Diffusion of Tea and Tea Culture along the Silk Roads” from the Unesco Silk Roads Programme. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture.

The history of tea stretches back over thousands of years and spans not only the vast regions encompassed by the Silk Roads but much of the globe. It is well known that tea has been at the centre of intercultural exchanges taking place between European ports and the far Eastern regions of the Silk Roads from the 16th century CE onwards. However, tea, as well as its associated drinking culture, has been at the foreground of Silk Roads interactions stretching back much further to the earliest days of these routes. Tea is derived from the plant Camellia sinesis, and, although today there are numerous types of tea and many different ways of preparing and drinking it, whether black, oolong, green, or white, they all originate from this one plant. Camellia sinesis has a number of possible places of origin but it is generally accepted that it originates from Central Southeast Asia in the region at the intersection of what is today North East India, Northern Myanmar, and South West China.

Tea has been consumed in China for thousands of years with some of the earliest references to tea drinking on record dating from the Shang Dynasty (1500 BCE–1046 BCE), where It was consumed in Yunnan province primarily as a medicinal drink.
End quote

Tea as a drink was brought to Europe in the early 1600s and quickly became a favorite beverage for much of the world. The use of the phrase cup of tea in English took a little bit of time before it was used regularly in a figurative sense. Tea as a drink became synonymous with the concept of acceptability in society and therefore saying something or someone was a cup of tea became a sort of seal of approval.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, cup of tea as a colloquial phrase used to describe a person shows up around the early 1900s. Here is an example from William De Morgan’s 1908 work Somehow Good.

‘It's simply impossible to help liking him.’ To which Sally replied, borrowing an expression from Ann the housemaid, that Fenwick was a cup of tea. It was metaphorical and descriptive of invigoration.
End quote

Moving on to the broader concept, Oxford English Dictionary lists
one's cup of tea: what interests or suits one.
End quote

Now, this is one of those phrases that will be a challenge to pin down. Once people started talking about tea, they could talk about little else. And cup of tea is a fairly common thing to discuss… and when searching for it in works of the 1800s, you mostly find descriptions of how someone prepares or takes their tea and a wide range of ads for tea cup sales… rather than finding the figurative use of the phrase. However, there are a few references that seems to be close to the earlier uses in print.

First we have the work The Last Refuge by Henry Blake Fuller published in 1900.
"How well did you know Carl Bollard and Willard Wakeman?" | asked.
He worked on his drink while he pondered.
"I never met Wakeman, he died many years ago. But I knew Carl Bollard well. And his idiot son."
"Not my cup of tea, Carl Junior. A wasteabout.
End quote

The phrase is also found in the novel Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford, published in 1932.
I'm not at all sure I wouldn't rather marry Aunt Loudie. She's even more my cup of tea in many ways.
End quote

That one was listed as an example in the Oxford English Dictionary and I’m grateful for that because the usage without the negative “not” at the beginning is far more elusive… merely because it’s more challenging to parse out in a search.

The work A Story-teller Tells the Truth: Reminiscences & Notes by Berta Ruck was published in 1935 and contains our phrase as well.

I had what amounted to a Nothing Time. I forgot what had been happening: forgot it was the thirteenth of August, and that O.O. had cooked for me over wood-ash a midday dinner of the only steak I had ever enjoyed (rump steak being scarcely my cup of tea, so to speak) and had given me a pint of bitter (not my cup of tea either). I forgot that I was supposed to be doing a swim.
End quote

The next item is from the courts. This is from Hearings that took place April 27, May 4-5, 11, and 12, 1939. This was published with the by-line: United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Education and Labor.
It would seem safe to leave it to the Supreme Court to sustain the delicate balance between local and national sovereignties so far as it is necessary to our federated Republic. Since I am not a constitutional theorist this is not my cup of tea.
End quote

This next excerpt is from a printing of chapter 8 of the story Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie. It was published in the Worcester Democrat and the ledger-enterprise, out of Pocomoke City, Maryland, October 03, 1941.

In my opinion, Mary's a cut above| Ted Bigland. I don't know if you realized it, dear, but Mr. R-W-was very taken with her. A pity, because it's made trouble. Mark my words, that's the reason for the engagement between him and Miss Carlisle being off. And, if you ask me, it's hit her badly. I don't know what she saw in him, I'm sure-he wouldn't have been my cup of tea, but I hear from a reliable source that she's always been madly in love with him.
End quote

This is a common way I hear the phrase used today. It is almost a polite way of saying you just don’t like someone or something.

Next, let’s take a look at the segment Walter Winchell in New York - Exclusive War Story from The Waterbury Democrat, out of Waterbury Connecticut, May 05, 1944.

Goeffrey slept in Ken's room in the crowded hotel that night. Or he would have slept: Instead, he gave way to Downs' insistence and read straight through "For Whom the Bell Tolls." "But I've got only seven hours!" Goeffrey Keyes had protested. "Hell with it," retorted Downs. "No better way to spend your time. You've got to read this book." Keyes read it. When Ken awakened toward dawn, Goeffrey Keyes had gone. The book lay on the bed table. Between the last pages Keyes had tucked a note:
"Dear Ken: Many thanks. This is my cup of tea. Cheers, Goeffrey.
End quote

I loved this one because it felt rather relatable in several ways.

In Tallulah: My Autobiography By Tallulah Bankhead published in 1952, we find a few comments on some unpleasantness between the author and a Miss Hellman. Here we go,

Miss Hellman and I have not faced each other since, an omission which I have survived without difficulty. I think she is one of our ablest playwrights. As a playwright I have tremendous respect for her. As a person she is not my cup of tea. I was still simmering over Miss Hellman's deception three years later when I picked up a copy of Time. In a John Hersey dispatch from Moscow I read that Miss Hellman, in Russia as the guest of VOKS, Soviet Cultural Society, had said in an address: "I don't like the theatre very much.
... An actor doesn't make much difference to a play."
End quote

I have one more historical item. This comes from the Evening star, out of Washington, D.C. September 11, 1960. This is from an article titled, Women Builders Are Scarce: One of the Few Talks About Home Design.

Mrs. Smith comes from a family of artistic nature— writers, painters, musicians and a builder-father. As the wife of a theatrical producer she traveled over the country doing public relations for such theater greats as Ethel Barry-more. When her husband died, Mrs. Smith gave up a writing career to care for two small children. She later married a writer and settled here in Arlington.
"Real estate was not my cup of tea," she vowed in the beginning. Now, however, she is wedded to building and real estate, sometimes spending 17 hours a day on the job.
End quote

That is so many hours on the job each day!

Let’s move to our modern uses, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon. And the cool thing about Patreon is it is 100% free to join the Bunny Trails community!

We have new things every weekday on the feeds, including a conversation about what everyone is reading, early access to the show, patron’s only polls, and our behind the scenes video which always includes a little about our week before the show and a cool feature after the show.

We’ve got some other pretty cool stuff, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by Shauna, and awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe gets every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

You can join the Bunny Trails community for free at bunnytrailspod on Patreon.


Modern Uses

There is another phrase that involves tea that has become rather popular recently. I want to quickly address it so we can put to rest the questions on its relation to a cup of tea.

This comes from the article Let’s Have Fun with Tea Phrases! on the website for the tea company, Harney & Sons.

Spill the Tea
Meaning: Get the real scoop, the good intel.
Origin: This one has a really interesting history. According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase has its origins in drag culture and has absolutely nothing to do with the drink. One of the first-known uses of the phrase comes from the 1994 book  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the book, the Black drag queen Lady Chablis says in response to a question about why she avoids certain men who react with violence when they “find out her T,” she explains what she means: “My T. My thing, my business, what’s goin’ on in my life.” In Black drag culture, “T” is short for “truth.” As the saying spread in culture, “T” and “tea” became interchangeable. Who knew?
End quote

We will talk about a few more tea-related phrases in the behind the scenes video with airs every Friday on

My Cup of Tea: The Story of the World's Most Popular Beverage is a 2002 book by Sam Twining. Sam did work for the famed Twinings tea company.

For thousands of years tea has been the world's most popular beverage. Starting with its origins in ancient China, this well-informed and witty account written by the lecturer, broadcaster and world-renown tea expert, Sam Twining, describes how tea was discovered by traders and brought to Europe.My Cup of Tea uncovers tea's adsorbing social journey, from a fashionable ritual to an indispensable routine for the many. It looks at the vast and varied array of teapots and services that tea has inspired. It explains the subtleties of tea varieties and the process by which they are grown, harvested, blended and packaged for our enjoyment.This superbly illustrated book is, like its subject, to be savoured and enjoyed.Written by Sam Twining.
End quote,pid:14714473501278088609&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiHtcro2f6DAxXCnGoFHa0SCSwQ8wIIgw4

It is not my cup of tea is an oil on canvas painting by Anne Lopes of New Zealand, originally created in 2016. Here is the description of the work from SaatchiArt.

"It is not my cup of tea" is part of Alice's Garden Series. Inspired by the famous story, I started doing the Alice's Garden series a few years ago to exorcise some demons from my life. Do you remember that in Lewis Carroll's story, there is a moment in the garden where Alice meets and interacts with several other characters? I wonder what was inside the tea jug. The title of the artwork here is a joke related to that. Imagine the following conversation:
- Would you like to have some tea?
- No, thanks, I'm fine.
- What a shame. The toadstools were so fresh...
End quote

The painting is of a teapot pouring tea into a teacup on the background of what might be a tablecloth or perhaps a placemat. The tea set is a pretty light blue and the background is a sort of plaid or perhaps woven pattern in oranges, yellows, and browns. It sort of reminds me of a bamboo, reed, or wicker type of woven surface. This particular piece is not my personal cup of tea… but her artwork is impressive. My favorite piece of hers is Tui’s Garden which depicts a bird perched on a branch filled with cherry blossoms, nearby to a banana tree in bloom. The bird is called a Tui… hence Tui’s garden. Anyway, this painting is definitely my cup of tea.

My Cup of Tea is a tea company based in Memphis Tennessee. They share,

Our mission is to walk with women beyond the boundaries of poverty and neglect and assist them in finding their purpose.
End quote

Here is a little bit more from their website,

My Cup of Tea is a non-profit, social enterprise located in the heart of Orange Mound, considered the oldest African American community in America. We import the highest quality tea from tea estates and gardens in the Far East to The House at Orange Mound, where it is weighed, re-formatted, and packaged for sale by women who impact the historic neighborhood.

Their lives are stabilized and dignified through training and purposeful work. Resources for personal and professional growth are included daily to enable them to provide for their families and serve their community.

Your purchase online or at one of our local retailers opens a pathway for positive change, upward mobility, and pride for the courageous women who prepare our tea. You can also directly donate to My Cup of Tea.
End quote

Not My Cup Of Tea, GOSLING is a special yarn offered by Voolenvine Yarns. The fiber content is Superwash Merino, Baby Alpaca, and Silk. The colors are lovely. It is a mix of crisp purple, pink, light green, blue… sort of all the colors but scattered along the natural, almost oatmeal color of the yarn. If you’re a yarn-lover, you should definitely take a look at this one. It’s beautiful.

There are quite a few products that use the phrase as a play on words along with other drinks. One example is a stamped spoon I found on Etsy. It reads,

Coffee it’s just not my cup of tea.
End quote

I saw others that mentioned adult beverages as their preference over tea. But for products targeting the US market, most of the items were all about coffee.   

Wrap up:
Phrases that allow for social situations and interactions to be made more gentle are always my favorite. I feel awkward most of the time so anything that helps me communicate with people is helpful. And while I saw a few instances where people used this phrase sarcastically or to make a more dramatic or negative statement, it is predominantly used merely to say that something is liked or not all that preferred. It’s a great way to share likes and dislikes without judging another person’s preferences… so long as everyone understands the phrase.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included,
reach out to us on Patreon, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

Sunrise or Sunset?

Sunrise - 33%
Sunset - 67%

Coming in with 67% of the votes are sunsets.

We have several comments on this poll question.

Heather kicks us off with:

I'm a morning person so I should probably say sunrise, but living in Florida the sunsets are just the best. Especially over the water.
End Quote

Pat added:

I voted for sunrise because I usually only see a sunrise when I am on vacation.  Sunsets in Kansas are the best to me--YES i have seen the ocean and sunsets over the ocean.  Love the Kansas sky!
End Quote

I think Pat and Heather are on to something about sunsets. I think one of the things that make them so amazing is how colorful they can get at the lowest point of the horizon, which is best viewed in a flat place, like over the open water, or in Florida or Kansas.

I love both. They’re different but both are good. Sunrises feel different to me. They feel fresh and freeing and expansive. Sunset feels relaxing and calm at the beginning and the middle. By the time the sun is fully set, I think it feels invigorating and exciting. At night, anything could happen. I think it’s because there’s this quiet sense of a secret world that darkness makes possible that separates it from the day. This only applies when the danger presented by nighttime is relatively limited. Either way, I have always loved the night…. Not like Batman or anything… my version of nightlife does not really involve going out and more involves playing video games or board games in my pajamas.

Mary said:

I am not a morning person so that limits the number of sunrises I see. I like sunsets because of the brilliant colors. They also represent wonderful childhood memories. My best friend and I would sit on top of the clothesline post in my backyard every night from spring  through fall and discuss each one. We talked about the shapes of the clouds, the way the sunbeams shot out in different directions, and how the colors would change and fade until there was only dark gray and indigo. Sometimes we just sat silently and soaked it in. Then, we would  climb down and go our separate ways smiling because we shared a  dynamic, unique piece of art in nature that words could only begin to describe.
End Quote


JGP also got in on the action here with:

I have to vote for sunsets. Both are pretty but sunrises happen *way* to early in the morning for me.
End Quote

I love both sunrise and sunset, but sunrises are more rare for me for the same reason JGP just mentioned… the sun is usually up before I am. In a perfect world, the sunrise is what would wake me up. But I live in suburbia so having a window open all night would be far too bright for my sleeping habits. But back to sunrises, which for me, represent new beginnings. And that holds an optimism that appeals to me. So I went with sunrises.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.


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