Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea What's Up With the Title?

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

What's Up With the Title?

Tea for Three

Our full title is Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…. One School at a Time. Whew, that's a whole mouthful.

The subtitle is self-explanatory: Greg Mortenson is on a mission to build schools in Pakistan, because he believes that by educating the youth of this country, terrorism can eventually be stopped and peace can be promoted.

The Three Cups of Tea part is where we start to get symbolic. This custom is best described by Haji Ali in this quote:

"You must respect our ways. […] The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. […] You must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time." (12.90)

Basically, he's saying that you (meaning Mortenson, in this case) can't just sweep in and change a country. You have to adhere to and respect their customs. And when they give you a cup of tea, you darn well better drink the thing.

Tea represents the Pakistani sense of community and how they welcome outsiders into it. There's a particularly sad portion later in a book where a family, displaced by war, says, "I can offer you nothing. […] Not even tea" (17.67). This is one of the biggest disgraces a family can experience: not being able to offer their guests tea. It's like Starbucks being out of coffee, but so much worse.

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