Thursday, September 29, 2005

I could murder for a nice cup of Rosie Lee

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.’


martpol said...

No, no, no. The true cup of tea should be beltingly strong, with just a touch of milk. The biggest problem I face abroad (and the reason that They Just Can't Get It Right) is that tea has no strength or taste. This is exacerbated by the stupid little bits of string mentioned in the article, which are the sure sign of a cafe/restaurant that just doesn't care about tea.

Agreed on three cups of tea just not being right, though; on most days I've got through that many by lunchtime.

Brit said...

Then I would contend that your problem abroad is that Johnny Foreigner makes it too weak.

In other words, you notice it.

Contrast this with one's attitude to beer. When venturing from these shores, a great pleasure is to try the local beers, and admire the variety of different flavours, hues etc. 'Ooh, that's a different one', you say.

But with tea, it has to be exactly the same as you'd make it at home, or it's Just Not Right.

martpol said...

There's one 'but' to your comment on beer: I always miss real ale when I'm Over There, and can't wait until I can return and get my hands on a pint of Old Peculier or Spitfire.

That said, obviously German lager is a vast improvement on Carling.

Toque said...

I have several a day - three to five - and I like to mix my drinks too. Presently, in my kitchen, there resides boxes of 'Taylors of Harrogate Green Tea with Lemongrass'; 'Twinnings English Breakfast Tea (The Gout Anglais)'; 'Twinnings Earl Grey Tea', and; Tetley's (similar to the stuff that you get in England but orange pekoe, hence the fact I have to buy 'English breakfast tea').

I also have some loose Hawaiian Colada and 'Scottish breakfast tea' (the latter was received as a present - I can only assume as a joke).

Tea is becomming big here in Canada, possibly a backlash against the coffee houses.

Brit said...


I'm into Gem by Bath Ales at the moment. Not sure if you can get it in your neck of the woods yet. An absolute beauty - rivalled only by Abbott Ale and Old Speckled Hen in my book. And possibly Exmoor Gold.


If you're importing, you can't go wrong with any of PG Tips, Tetley's, Yorkshire or, if push comes to shove, Typhoo.

Twinings have just brought out an 'Everyday' tea, which is a posh version of your classic English tea.

They all meet the required standard of neutrality, and they're what you'll get if you ask for "english breakfast tea" in a hotel, "builders' tea" in some of the trendier cafe-bars, and "just normal tea" in someone's house.

martpol said...

Regarding ale: good tip, Andrew. I just picked my two out of the hat, but Old Peculier is a favourite. Also Reverend James, though I'm not sure that's a real ale. Old Speckled Hen is a thing of beauty, but confusing it with Famous Grouse can get you funny looks if you order a pint.

Toque said...

I'm not importing. Although I live in Canada I am English and I take my chances with the brews available to me here. They also have Tetleys but it isn't the same as ours so I plumb for Twinnings 'English Breakfast' which is about as similar to an average tea in the UK.

ukexpat said...

Add me to the complainants about the quality of tea preparation in the USA. I have lived here 10 years and it's getting worse -- a cup of warm water and a teabag on a string is not a recipe for great tea, and, please, real milk, not that "cream" or creamer meant for coffee. I am married to an American and engagement lesson #1 for her was how to make tea properly: kettle (itself hard to find in the US), loose leaf tea and a teapot!!

Brit said...


The full works, eh? Good man.

Don't forget to tell her that crisps are not chips, fries are. Very important, that.