That's a very strange story, and an unusual experience. I have two guesses, but they are only guesses.
The first is that in the United States, jobs in places like Dunkin' Donuts are sometimes held by recent U.S. immigrants with limited English skills. It may have been a case of difficulty with English on both sides of the conversation--neither could understand the other one's accent. These workers would probably recognize phrases like "an everything bagel" or "a strawberry Coolatta," but not "a cup of tea."
I think I have it! A very common order at a coffee shop would be "a Cappuccino." If the student said "a cup of tea" it is (barely!) possible to imagine hearing "cuppaTEE" as "cah-pa-CHEE," i.e. a Cappuccino. A Cappuccino is is a brown-colored sweet coffee drink made milk, cinnamon, and foam. (It's an Italian name, named for the brown robes worn by Capuchin monks).
A second possibility is that they might not have had tea! Or, tea orders might be so rare that the server didn't know that they had tea or where to get it. This, too, is surprising. Most places at least know how to give you a cup of hot water and a tea bag, and most of the "gourmet coffee" chains now offer some "gourmet" teas as well.
As a bit of travel information, I will say that in the last few years in the U.S. we have just started to see the rise of specialty tea shops (distinct from coffee shops). I see them in malls and on trendy shopping streets, and if you want tea you might have a better time looking for a chain like "Teavana" or "David's Tea" then at any coffee place. You can get many kinds of tea there (Lapsang Souchang, etc.) but whether they can make ordinary British-style tea, I don't know.