Yeah, yeah, “don’t judge a book by its cover”—but in reality, that cover and that title are exactly what make us pick up and open said book!
So when confronted with the Irish tea blend “Storm in a Teacup,” well of course I had to pick it up and buy it.
I expected a rather rousing brew, especially as the package promises “a stormy, spicy herbal blend with a breeze of anise taste.”
The tea itself, a Special House Blend by Cupán Tae in Galway, is a very pretty blend of blackberry leaves, fennel, mullein flowers, balm, aniseed, ribwort leaves, apple bits, rosehip peels, marigold petals, elder flowers, elderberries, peony petals, and peppermint.
The brew is a dark brick color, with an herbal aroma of fennel and mint.
And the flavor? Mild, muted, definitely not what I’d consider “stormy spicy.” It’s pleasant, with a flavor less fennel-y than the aroma suggests. A bit floral but not like flowers. It’s herbal sweet.
This would be a great tea at bedtime, soothing and calming. But storm? Not so much.
However, storm in a teacup? Well, that’s a different thing.
So What Is a Storm in a Teacup?
This idiom—meaning something that has been exaggerated out of proportion—goes back centuries. Around 52 BC, Roman statesman Cicero wrote Excitabat fluctus in simpulo meaning “He was stirring up billows in a ladle” (The Phrase Finder) or Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo ut dicitur Gratidius, translated as “For Gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle, as the saying is” (Wikipedia).
Various sources offer differing timelines of the sentiment as used in English. According to The Phrase Finder, the first English version is found in a 1678 letter from the Duke of Ormond to the Earl of Arlington:
“Our skirmish . . . is but a storm in a cream bowl,”
and the first English “tempest in a teapot” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in 1825:
What is the ‘tempest raging o’er the realms of ice’? A tempest in a teapot!
followed a few years later by Catherine Sinclair writing:
“As for your father’s good-humoured jests being ever taken up as a serious affair, it really is like raising a storm in a teacup.” (Modern Accomplishments 1838)
Wikipedia, however, says that Lord Chancellor Thurlow of England used “tempest in a teapot” in the late 1700s, and that the Prime Minister
is credited for popularizing this phrase as characterizing the outbreak of American colonists against the tax on tea.
Although Thurlow was quite wrong about those colonists, this phrase could actually fit the Irish tea blend—trumpeting “storm,” but actually brewing up into a soothing and understated balm.
–Martin, G. “The meaning and origin of the expression: tempest in a teapot,” The Phrase Finder, 2018.
–Wikipedia. “Tempest in a teapot,” October 21, 2017.