Unlike the energetic air that surrounds coffee, tea is often paired with tranquility. In album reviews or friend recommendations, quiet and bearded folk bands or gentle introspective ambient music is associated with the act of sipping tea on a rainy day. Though many of the following artists challenge these musical pairings, what remains a constant is tea’s ability to comfort someone in times of trouble, and that it’s best served with a loved one. Steeped in excellence, these 10 songs are perfect with your next cuppa.
Although all of Cat Stevens’ (now Yusaf Islam) 1970 masterpiece Tea for the Tillerman is a great tea drinking companion, for titular purposes, its final and title track gets the special mention. Clocking in at only one minute, “Tea For The Tillerman” is a simple piano-based song that near the end is met with a choral accompaniment singing “happy day.” A short song with a lot of meaning, Stevens celebrates the rewards of hard work whether that’s tea or spiritual redemption.
Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea” is one of the gloomiest songs out there that references tea. From their 1993 album In Utero, Kurt Cobain captures the psyche of a depressed person and uses pennyroyal, an herb thought to be a natural way to have an abortion, as a symbol to cleanse the body of the unwanted. As deliciously dark as the song is, you better stick with Earl Grey tea.
Though it’s not about actual tea, Kacey Musgraves’ use of tea references in this feel good cut from this year’s excellent Pageant Material is enough to bring a little extra pleasure to your afternoon cup. Done in her accessible country-pop style, Musgraves praises individuality and self-empowerment. Musgraves capitalizes on the phrase “you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea” with clever little replies, “some like the bitter, some like the sweet” and “some like it black, some like it green.”
Led Zeppelin’s epic “Tea for One” is the sprawling closer of their 1976 album Presence. “A minute seems like a lifetime baby, when I feel this way,” cries a homesick Robert Plant in this languid, bluesy track. The melancholy that fills this mostly instrumental song is delectable making it perfect for drinking many unhurried cups of tea when you’re feeling down.
Since featured in the 1925 musical No, No Nanette, “Tea for Two” has essentially become a jazz standard. Doris Day’s take appeared in the 1950 movie based on the musical Tea for Two. In this duet with her co-star Gordon MacRae, Day sings of finding happiness in spending time and drinking tea with a loved one: “picture you upon my knee just tea for two / and two for tea / just me for you.”
Like many early Iron & Wine songs, Sam Beam pairs his hushed vocals with simple guitar picking in this b-side from The Creek Drank The Cradle-era that feels as warm going down as a hot cup of tea. “Her Tea Leaves” centers on the narrator’s undying devotion towards a mystery woman. With so much seemingly hinging on the way she says the narrator’s name, he insists that “she’ll be there” as shown by “her tea leaves dry by the sea.”
A very English song from a very English band, The Kinks combine heartbreak and lust with the act of drinking tea in “Afternoon Tea.” Overshadowed by other big tracks from 1967’s Something Else (notably “Waterloo Sunset” and “Death of a Clown”), “Afternoon Tea” is still a strong, and most importantly, playful, pop-rock track perfect for, yes, afternoon tea. Clearly a tea-loving band, The Kinks’ other tea-infused song “Have A Cuppa Tea” epitomizes the beverage culture that’s ingrained within them.
“For the price of a cup of tea, you’d get a line of coke,” Stuart Murdoch sings in the opening line of “For the Price of a Cup of Tea.” The Belle and Sebastian frontman not only delivers a jab at how expensive tea has become thanks to trendy cafes everywhere, but also sets the tone for this lighthearted affair. About a woman finding her confidence and her place in life, this poppy and ebullient sounding song is ideal with a morning cup and will prepare you to take on the world.
Irish singer-songwriter Róisín O pens a very sweet ode to tea’s powers to clear the head and the mind. “Feeling a little bit strange today,” she begins before offering her chosen remedy for romantic uncertainness—making another cup of tea.
Country star Blake Shelton compares perfect love to various perfect pairings in his mega-hit “Honey Bee.” He offers a few Southern examples like “you’ll be my sunny day, I’ll be your shade tree” and “If you’ll be my Louisiana, I’ll be your Mississippi,” before reaching the most important one of all: “You’ll be my sugar, baby, I’ll be your sweet iced tea.” Shelton’s romantic country jam makes for a great lazy day, iced tea-sipping soundtrack.