Everyone knows that Captain Jean-Luc Picard loves drinking Earl Grey tea more than any other caffeinated drink, but what this essay presupposes is: maybe he doesn’t? In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard certainly talks about Earl Grey tea more than Spock says “Live long and prosper” in the original series, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Picard actually prefers it to other types of caffeine. Instead, it’s very possible that the Earl Grey thing is an affectation, something Picard drinks because it became part of his persona, rather than something he actually prefers—kind of like how Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is forced to wear the deerstalker cap in Sherlock, because “it’s a Sherlock Holmes hat.”
Let’s begin by reading Picard’s mind to find out what he really likes. Come on Jean-Luc, tell us what you want, what you really really want! In the episode “Attached,” Picard and Doctor Crusher have pseudo-telepathic devices implanted in their brains where they can read each other’s feelings and thoughts. Guess what? Crusher discovers Picard loves coffee. Here’s the scene:
CRUSHER: Remember that Vulcan dish I promised you for breakfast? I was just. (PAUSES, GETS A TELEPATHIC MESSAGE) You hate having breakfast with me!
PICARD: That’s not true.
CRUSHER: Yes, it is. When I said breakfast, I heard you say I hate that.
PICARD: That’s not quite what I meant.
CRUSHER: Well, then what did you mean?
PICARD: It’s just that I don’t like—
CRUSHER: What I’ve been choosing for breakfast recently.
PICARD: You see, I think that breakfast should be a simple meal and recently you’ve been ordering these elaborate things.
CRUSHER: Coffee and croissants, that’s all you really want, isn’t it? Coffee and croissants. Well why didn’t you just say so?
PICARD: I didn’t think it was important. You don’t like those elaborate meals either.
CRUSHER: No, I usually prefer something simple myself but I thought you might enjoy more variety. Well, I guess it’s coffee and croissants for both of us from now on.
Okay, so it’s unclear if Picard and Crusher start having coffee and croissants for breakfast exclusively after this episode, but can we talk about the simple fact that in the ONLY episode in which someone reads Picard’s mind, we learn that he craves not Earl Grey tea, but… regular coffee? I know there have been some bombshells in the history of Star Trek, but this one seems to easily be the biggest. If Picard only pretends to like having the complicated breakfasts with Crusher, then perhaps he pretends to like other things, too, for example, Earl Grey?
This leads to the thorny question of how often Picard actually drinks Earl Grey tea in Star Trek canon. There are 179 episodes of The Next Generation, and Picard is often holding a drink that could be Earl Grey tea but isn’t always specifically identified as such. You can find some compilation videos out there that claim Picard only drinks Earl Grey 6 or 7 times but these are slightly erroneous, and also ignore that it’s almost impossible to document every instance of Picard holding a drink in the whole show because that would require a tea-focused rewatch from start-to-finish.
That said, after scanning through scripts, and re-watching a healthy chunk of TNG; here is an incomplete—but instructive—list of episodes and films where Picard is either 100-percent drinking Earl Grey tea, drinking something else out of a cup that could be tea (but maybe coffee) or Earl Grey is mentioned or discussed outright.
- “Encounter at Farpoint”: Picard drinks tea in his first formal conference with Riker. (Earl Grey is not mentioned, so it could be coffee. Maybe.)
- “Where No One Has Gone Before”: Picard’s “mom” offers him tea on a cart. (Earl Grey is not mentioned.)
- “Contagion”: Picard says “Tea, Earl Grey, hot!” for the first time. (Note: he does not get it! The replicator malfunctions.)
- “Best of Both Worlds”: Picard offers Hanson tea by saying “Earl Grey?”
- “Redemption”: Lursa and B’Etor pour Picard Earl Grey to try and curry favor.
- “The Perfect Mate”: Kamala orders Earl Grey from the replicator for Picard.
- “Lessons”: Picard tries to order Earl Grey late at night but is unable to because the replicators are offline. (Can he not make a boiling pot of water without the replicator. Really? Also, this is the second time Picard not getting tea reveals a major plot point.)
- “Rascals”: Picard—in a child’s body—orders “Tea, Earl Grey, hot!” from the replicator.
- “Journey’s End”: Picard has Earl Grey and sandwiches ready for Admiral Necheyev’s visit.
- “Bloodlines”: Picard offers tea to his “son,” Jason.
- “All Good Things”: Picard orders “Tea, Earl Grey, hot!” TWICE. Once during a flashback to the first mission of the Enterprise and also in a flash-forward to the future at Data’s house, from a cranky maid.
- Deep Space Nine, “Emissary”: Picard has a giant pot of something, probably tea—but maybe coffee—in his meeting with Sisko.
- Generations: Picard’s faux-“wife” in the Nexus offers him a cup of Earl Grey.
- Nemesis: Picard orders “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” from the replicator prior to his subspace call from Admiral Janeway. Picard’s younger clone, Shinzon, also orders “Tea, hot,” later in the film, but does not specify “Earl Grey.”
The biggest takeaway from this list is that the only time Picard orders Earl Grey when he’s alone is in “Lessons.” All the other occasions are connected to meetings or social gatherings. This makes his private tea time kind of an isolated incident. And even in the episode itself, Neela Darren is sort of weirded out that he’s drinking caffeine so late at night. Could this actually not be normal behavior for Picard?
As Star Trek fans, we’re conditioned to think Picard is an Earl Grey fiend and drinks it all the time, but because we only see a small fraction of his private life, we mostly associate the tea with Picard’s professional persona. The fake alien ghost of his mother offering him tea in “Where No One Has Gone Before” suggests that tea was pushed on Jean-Luc at a young age, but it doesn’t follow that he likes it.
What about booze? Picard likes booze. Prior to an alien abduction in the episode “Allegiance” Picard is alone, chilling with something that looks like brandy. And obviously, we know he likes red wine, too. Further, in “Relics” Scotty learns the green brandy he snagged from Ten Forward was obtained for Guinan by Picard. Now, I’m not saying Picard’s refined taste in alcohol proves he doesn’t love tea, that would be insane. But, Picard pounding that shot of green brandy with Scotty does indicate he’s not some dandy English gentleman who can only unwind with a cup of tea, ‘governor. The sophisticated tea-drinking image of Picard might be an image he’s actively trying to project.
Which brings us back to “Attached.” In the same episode, Crusher learns Picard often projects an air of confidence when he’s actually not sure what he’s doing.
CRUSHER: I mean, you’re acting like you know exactly which way to go, but you’re only guessing. Do you do this all the time?
PICARD: No, but there are times when it is necessary for a captain to give the appearance of confidence.
The conclusion? Earl Grey is part of that appearance. He’s sipping it when he jerks Riker around in the very first episode, and he fires-up the Earl Grey every time an big Admiral comes to visit, or when he needs to tell Ben Sisko sorry/not sorry for that time I was a Borg.
If Picard wasn’t the Captain and could choose what he wanted to drink, without having to worry about what everyone thought of him, it seems like he’d be slugging a cup of coffee, just like Janeway in Voyager. Does this make Janeway a more emotionally authentic captain than Picard? Well, maybe, but then again, maybe her coffee addiction is an affectation, too. And with that in mind, excuse me while I go run some holodeck simulations to sort this all out.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.