Every June 16 we gather to celebrate Captain Picard, for it is — based on a loose extrapolation of the stardate of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s season seven episode “The Pegasus” — Captain Picard Day. A day to recall his triumphs, his heroism, his morals, and his earnest sincerity. Not this year. This year I come to drag him.
Because, god, take it from someone who drinks a frankly dangerous amount of tea — I may not be Space-French like Jean-Luc, but I am indeed regular Earth-British — we have to acknowledge a truth about our beloved captain of the Enterprise: Earl Grey? Disgusting.
I can still recall the first time I imbibed the devil’s brew as a child, a moment that forever scarred my palate. The pungency of the bergamot, a sensory overload that drowns out the black tea it’s suffused with as if to warn you, like a skunk spraying its musk, to stay away. That’s before you even actually drink it, and that blunt, overwhelming aroma transitions from your nostrils onto your tongue. There is no taste of tea to Earl Grey, even if your blend of choice uses a stronger black tea as its base to try and go toe-to-toe. It’s just bergamot water. And there’s a reason we don’t drink bergamot oil like that, because it’s rank as hell. It’s like downing hot soap!
I’m scared to even wonder why Jean-Luc has to specify to the replicator that his Earl Grey must be hot because it presumes that at some point someone in Starfleet ordered cold Earl Grey, and the mere thought makes me want to gag. But here’s my real beef with Jean-Luc’s love of soapy dishwater, beyond the fact that there are so many varieties of tea out there that capture what you would ostensibly want out of a cup of Earl Grey if it didn’t taste so foul. Earl Grey is a performative tea. It’s the tea you select if you want to feel posh because it’s named after a goddamn Earl.
Everyone out here’s drinking PG Tips or Yorkshire Tea like a normal person, maybe unwinding with a nice chai, or green tea, if you’re feeling a little extra and want to put the work in. Earl Grey is what you say if you want to stick your pinkie out while sipping, an act for you to concentrate on while trying to down the swill that it is.
And really, Jean-Luc is trying to be fancy when he drinks his tea. Trek fans may hype him up as an Earl Grey fiend, but as Ryan Britt over at Tor recently calculated, he doesn’t actually drink it all that often — the number of times he orders it in private, even less. He’s drinking it when he’s got guests, when he’s with his bridge staff, when he’s an ambassador and a leader, not just a man who is gagging for a nice cuppa.
Jean-Luc isn’t drinking Earl Grey because he wants to. He can’t be, because it tastes like shit. He’s drinking Earl Grey because he wants someone else to know that he’s drinking Earl Grey, like the good and proper fancy Captain he is. It’s the Shakespeare in public to his Dixon Hill in private. It’s the mask that Jean-Luc Picard must project, the persona that Captain Picard Day was created to evangelize, the idealised hero that is so lofty and admirable and fancy.
To which I say, get over yourself, Captain. Order whatever tea you actually want. In the enlightened 24th century, no one’s going to judge a Starship Captain for the earnest simplicity of a builder’s brew. Hell, you work crazy hours: maybe just order a coffee instead.