The Friday Fillip: Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

I was a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But a couple of things irritated me about it. One was William Riker. The other was their insistence on having Captain Picard badger the replicator for Earl Grey tea.

I don’t hate Earl Grey, but I don’t like it either — who would want good tea adulterated with bergamot, apart from JLP, I mean? It’s… medicinal. Nevertheless, there seems to be the notion floating around this side of the Atlantic that Earl Grey is the best, the fanciest, or the finest tea, which, I guess, is why they programmed Picard to ask the replicator for it — and why, more’s the pity, you’ll find it as the only thing approximating real tea in the baskets of tisanes that litter breakfast tables at hotels and B&Bs.

Where was I?

Ah, yes: replicators. Things of fantasy, right? Perhaps not. And as a first instalment of that argument, I’d like to present the 3D printer. Actually, the printer and the laser scanner and the computer application that marries the two. The typical technique used currently is “additive,” which is to say, the object being replicated is built up layer by thin layer of powder that is fused by heat. The best way to grasp this is to see it in action, in this four-minute video, in which a working adjustable wrench is duplicated on the spot:

I’m old enough to remember when computers were as big as dog kennels and printers were too heavy to lift. So I know that although the 3D printer now costs about $5000 and is bureau bulky, it won’t be long until a svelte version will be ensconced in every room in your house. Doubt me? There’s already a printer in the works that will fashion your likeness in chocolate.


  1. Very cool. I was familiar with 3D printers, but had no idea that they could actually print moving parts.

  2. Just in case Wikipedia happens to be anyone’s cup of tea, the tea was named for the 2nd Earl, and the Cup for the 4th.

  3. A note for those who like both Earl Grey tea and Bluegrass. There’s a lovely song by The Blackberry Bushes Stringband called Earl Grey Morning. This spring on the Cline River near Saskatchewan Crossing, Alberta, they played it in a slight rain at the foot of the mountains: “On this Earl Grey morning / I fill my mason jar / No sugar, baby / I’m waiting for my honey to pour….” Perfect.

  4. I always found it strange that an extraordinarily intelligent and massively capable starship operating system needed to be reminded that Earl Grey tea is supposed to be served hot. Did Picard also have to specify: “Soup. Gazpacho. Cold.”?

    For that matter, you’d think the computer would have had a “Your Favourite Order” function, so that Picard could simply say “The usual.” If my bank machine can do that today, you’d think Starfleet IT could pull it off in 400 years’ time.

    Seconded on Riker.