In the Telegraph today:
Traditional tea drinkers have reached boiling point over the state of the nation's cuppa, saying the standard of preparation is a disgrace and the taste so poor that the resulting brew often has to be thrown away.
A cup of tea in most public places is a "complete rip off", say the majority of over-50s, with the biggest gripes being paper or plastic cups, poor quality tea, tea bags with "silly little strings attached", plastic stirrers, and "awful little cartons of long-life milk".
But while British cafes and tea rooms are rated poorly, France emerges as the country that makes the worst tea in the world. Spain also gets the thumbs down, as does America - which many think has never learned the art of tea-making - the Greek Islands, and Italy.
Valery McConnell, the editor of Yours magazine, which commissioned the survey among 2,000 of its readers, average age 67, said: "The art of making the great British cup of tea has been lost and the tea-loving over-50s have reached boiling point at the downgrading of their favourite beverage.
"The rise of American and continental style coffee chains has also brought with it American and continental-style tea - and we all know how that tastes."
…. On average every person in Britain drinks three cups of tea a day.
It also points out that when taken with milk, as is the preference of 98 per cent of the population, four cups of tea a day provide significant amounts of the recommended levels of nutrients, including calcium, zinc, folic acid, vitamins B2, B1 and B6, manganese and potassium.
Three cups a day? That average must include all those who never drink it, since I know few tea drinkers who don’t have at least six.
When venturing abroad, we all know that a healthy supply of PG Tips should go into the suitcase before even the sun-tan lotion. The Germans are ok at providing ‘Tee mit Milch’, but everyone else is clueless.
In America I’ve experienced two amusingly different reactions. One very nice lady serving the coffees at a conference in Chicago got into a terrible fluster when she found that there was a Briton in the group. “Tea! We need to get you some tea! Oh my God, we haven’t got any tea!” – as if I was genetically incapable of consuming coffee. I hadn’t even asked for tea.
The other reaction that I’ve had in several diners and cafés when requesting tea with milk was an ‘eyes-to-heaven-is this guy for real?-Goddamn Limeys’ look of despair.
As if tea-drinking was an affectation, rather than an addiction.
A truth universally acknowledged, of course, is that nobody else knows how to make a proper cuppa except you.
But what I’ve come to realise about tea is that, unlike most things, which we try to get to taste nice, the ideal cup of tea should taste of nothing. Nada. Zilch. You shouldn’t even notice that you’re drinking it.
It’s just hot, delivers a small quantity of caffeine, breaks up the day into manageable sections, provides an excuse for aimless chatter, allows you to listen to the agreeable sound of a boiling kettle, is something respectable to hold when you’re watching telly, and is a small peace-offering/plea for leniency for builders, electricians, plumbers etc.
That it should taste good is irrelevant.
Indeed, people strive to get it to the right level of neutrality for them. If it’s slightly too bitter, add sugar. Too strong, add more milk. And so on and so on until you can taste absolutely nothing at all, and then you can smack your lips, make that ‘aaaah’ sound, and properly describe it as a ‘nice cup of tea.’