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I found the headline,‘Facebook friendships are not everybody’s cup of tea,’ in 'Ask Amy' of the Lifestyle section of today’s Washington Post (August 9). Without special needs for taking bother of consulting dictionaries, I can easily guess ‘not everybody’s cup of tea’ means ‘not everybody’s liking or taste, or not applicable to everyone. But this is the first time for me to come across this phrase.

Can the object of ‘Cup of tea’ be applied to anything, like sports, hobbies, literature, languages, celebrities, science, politics, and credos? Can I replace 'tea' with other items e.g. coffee, cake or even liking? Is ‘Somebody’s cup of tea” a well-used English or American English idiom?

The headline is followed by the following sentence:

“I have been invited to be a “friend” on Facebook by two people whom I have known for years, but time and distance have limited our contact to an occasional greeting card or e-mail. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I do not want this kind of superficial relationship, especially when I see that these Facebook “friends” are sharing personal information with hundreds of people.”

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  • +1 for the question. You certainly do ask a goodly number of "quite interesting" questions! You must be a very attentive reader to pick up on all these "non-obvious" usages! – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '11 at 23:16
  • The part I noticed was: "Without special needs for taking bother of consulting dictionaries" ... Why not try consulting some dictionaries next time? Then include your research in your question. – GEdgar Aug 9 '11 at 23:30
  • @GEdgar: I suspect mot many dictionaries other than specialist ones like The American Heritage dictionary of idioms would even define the expression, let alone clarify its "reach". – FumbleFingers Aug 10 '11 at 2:41
  • Just for fun I checked whether the Oxford English Dictionary has it. It does. Citations back to 1932. – GEdgar Aug 10 '11 at 3:15
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It is a well-known idiom in US English. (I'd be surprised to find that it wasn't equally well-known in Britain, but I have no personal experience.) Your definition is quite accurate. However, it is almost always used in the negative: not someone's cup of tea.

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  • Note that we don't actually do tea like the English either. That's how widespread this is. :-) – T.E.D. Aug 9 '11 at 23:04
  • I imagine that's how old it is. After all, we did riot over taxes on tea. – wfaulk Aug 10 '11 at 1:09
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You have the definition down pretty well. The FreeOnlineDictionary writes:

cup of tea

  1. Something that one excels in or enjoys: Opera is not my cup of tea.

A different definition refers to something being markedly different from another, as z7sg pointed out. It refers to two subjects being separate, although this usage is more suited for the phrase "a different kettle of fish".

I've personally heard it referred to in both American and British English, though I can speak only for American English. I think it can definitely be applied to anything -- there is no limit. For example, you might say

Social networking is not my cup of tea.

if you weren't particularly interested in joining Facebook, Twitter, etc. The sentence you quoted is saying that "Facebook friends are not to everyone's liking", and supports this by saying that the author is "old-fashioned" and doesn't want such a "superficial relationship". He is saying that "Facebook friends aren't for me, and here is why".

Edit to address follow up question: You can't replace tea with another edible such as coffee or cake. The accepted idiom is "cup of tea". There is, however, the related phrase "another kettle of fish".

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  • It's a good point mentioning the other meaning, however I don't find the Free Dictionary definition very clear. – z7sg Ѫ Aug 9 '11 at 22:50
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    I think that freeonlinedictionary definition is somewhat suspect. Firstly I've never heard it used of "something that one excels in", only "that one enjoys". Secondly, the "matter to be dealt with" meaning looks like conflation with the standard expression "another kettle of fish". – FumbleFingers Aug 9 '11 at 23:02
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Yes, you are correct it is a well-used British idiom meaning "not to someone's liking". There aren't really any restrictions on its use, you can say "that's not my cup of tea" to anything. It can also be used in a positive sense "that is my cup of tea" but this is less common.

The origin of the phrase is simply the very high regard for tea that is held by the British.

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Your deduction, that "not everybody's cup of tea" means "not to everyone's liking", is absolutely correct. The expression commonly used in both the affirmative and negative sense; for example: "I would say it's definitely his cup of tea", or "that isn't exactly my cup of tea".

However, while commonly used and readily understood (at least in Australia), I would hazard to say that it is more of an older person's expression of choice in describing something they do, or don't have a penchant for.

I also agree with Simchona in that use of the expression "another cup of tea altogether", to mean "another/a different kettle of fish", is fairly uncommon... (I can't say I've ever heard anyone state "another cup of tea" in that sense.)

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The expression is so well known in English that it appears in Christine Ammer, The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, second edition (2006):

not one's cup of tea It doesn't suit one, it isn't to one's taste. The ultimate origin of this term is not known, although it definitely is British. Tea had become an immensely popular beverage in Europe by the mi-eighteenth century, and the positive version—he or she is my cup of tea—as used from the late nineteenth century. The negative is slightly newer, from the 1920s. Josephine Tey used it in The Franchise Affair (1948): "Probably she isn't you cup of tea. You have always preferred them a little stupid, and blonde."

Calling the expression a cliché seems a bit harsh, unless we understand all idioms to be, to some extent, clichés. In any case, Ammer includes a similar entry for the expression in her American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013):

cup of tea, one's Something that is in accord with one's liking or taste. For example, Quiz shows are just my cup of tea, or Baseball is not her cup of tea. The origin of this metaphorical expression has been lost, but the positive version—"he's my cup of tea"—has been around since the late 1800s and the negative—not one's cup of tea—since the 1920s.

As Ammer's examples indicate, the idiom can be used in reference to people, activities, entertainments, and other things.

An Ngram chart of "not his cup of tea" (blue line) versus "not her cup of tea" (red line) versus "not my cup of tea" (green line) versus "not your cup of tea" (yellow line) versus "just my cup of tea" (teal line) for the period 1920–2005 shows that most of them have increased in frequency since 1960 or so:

I included the line for "just my cup of tea" to show that positive instances of the "cup of tea" idiom do continue to appear, although they may be (and probably are) considerably less frequent than negative instances.

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  • All this Technicolor malarkey with graphs and the like is definitely not my cup of char... – Peter Point Nov 13 '17 at 4:05

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