George Mallory, the aristocratic British climber, may have failed to reach the top of Mount Everest because he insisted on bringing a sterling silver tea urn for a “proper cuppa” each day on his way up the slopes. Mallory delayed his departure by a month in order to train three handpicked sherpas to pour the tea properly and polish the silver at altitude. This delay was blamed for pushing the expedition into the foul-weather season which lead to its destruction.
Mallory and his team were spotted at 23,000 feet enjoying a cup of Earl Gray before heavy weather closed in. After his disappearance, rumors circulated that Mallory had actually reached the summit and begun a safe descent, but perished after returning to collect a favorite teacup which had been left behind at the top. “Mallory’s Teacup” is now shorthand for any minor item which threatens to derail a larger project. Sir Edmund Hillary looked for but found no evidence of the cup at the summit 25 years later.