Why do we say "Not my cup of tea"?

Well-Known Expressions

Not my cup of tea

Meaning:

I don't like it; it's not to my taste. Can be used in a variety of ways, such as in reference to activities (skiing isn't my cup of tea) or people (he's not my cup of tea).

Background:

This expression appears to originate in Britain in the first half of the 20th century. But at least as far back as the mid 18th century, the affirmative version was in use. In fact, according to phrases.org.uk, "cup of tea" was such a synonym for acceptability that it became the name given to a favored friend, especially one of ebullient nature. From the use of it in William de Morgan's 1908 novel Somehow Good (page 169), it can be assumed that the expression started as one used by the working class:

"He may be a bit hot-tempered and impulsive," said [the Major] to Sally. "But I really couldn't say, if I were asked why I think so. It's a mere idea. Otherwise, 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.

In 1932, Nancy Mitford uses the expression in her comic novel Christmas Pudding, without explanation (indicating that it was in common use at that time):

I'm not at all sure I wouldn't rather marry Aunt Loudie. She's even more my cup of tea in many ways.

According to Gregory Titelman's America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings, the negative form has been in use since about the 1920s, but it appears to have caught on during World War II. Perhaps this was due to the many Americans in Britain who found the nation's favorite beverage not to their taste?

In 1944, Hal Boyle wrote in his syndicated column, Leaves From a War Correspondent's Notebook that in England, "You don't say someone gives you a pain in the neck. You just remark 'He's not my cup of tea.'"

Alphabetical list of expressions

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