By popular demand – a column about tea! Since writing this column, lots of people have asked me in comments and on Twitter about British tea-drinking habits, or how to drink tea the British way. So here you go! Stop press: I found out whilst writing this that I had just too many words to say about tea – and so did everyone around me. In fact, those around me are likely to say that having too many words is not a rare occurrence where I’m concerned. But anyway. Here’s your intro post on how the Brits drink tea, and it will be followed by a sequel next week. Hooray!
There’s no doubt that us Brits have very strong opinions on the best way to make a pot – or mug – of tea. To keep things straightforward for the purpose of this column, when I say ‘tea’ I am talking about traditional English Breakfast tea. Green tea, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong…they all have their place, but that place ain’t here.
Let’s start with some fun facts (I love fun facts on a Friday). First off, we have a UK Tea Council. Awesome. Their website is even tea.co.uk. According to the UKTC, we drink a total of 165 million cups of tea per day (and still only 70 million cups of coffee. Tea wins! Hooray!). 96% of the tea we drink is from a tea bag, and 98% is made with milk. 30% of people take sugar in their tea. We have a number of slang words for tea, including brew, Rosie Lee, cuppa and cha.
Now I shall address the important tea issues of the modern age. To dunk or not to dunk? When should the milk be added? What kind of tea leaves should one use in the first place? Let’s start at the start…
What Kind Of Tea Should I Be Drinking?
The answer to this question is really just a matter of taste. The only thing I can unequivocally state is that your tea should be fairtrade. It may cost a few pence more in the supermarket, but the difference per cup is practically nothing. Realistically, to drink tea the British way on a daily basis, you should choose a good tea bag, preferably one in the pyramid shape that allows the leaves space while the drink brews. Which brand, variety or country of origin is up to you.
To Dunk Or Not To Dunk?
Be warned: dunking biscuits in your tea will ruin your drink – but the trade-off is worth it. There’s nothing like biting into a chocolate bourbon creme that’s been in some hot tea for just the right amount of time. “But what’s that right amount of time?” I hear you cry! That question was answered by Dr Len Fisher of University of Bristol, who won an Ig Nobel Prize from Harvard’s Annals of Improbable Research for his equation explaining the art of dunking.
When To Add The Milk
For years I fought the fight on the side of adding the milk last. I used to cite half-remembered ‘scientific evidence’ that had somehow convinced me years ago that the fat from the milk would stop the tea brewing properly. Turns out I was wrong. After numerous debates, and a spell of making tea with a scummy layer of film on top (gross), I tried it milk-first. And have never looked back. I found that adding the water to the milk-teabag combo resulted in a much smoother cuppa and, weirdly, it somehow seems to need *less* time to brew. Support for my newfound stance comes from a recent study by the Royal Society of Chemistry, as cited on The Telegraph website. Apparently adding the milk to hot water does something to the molecules that makes it behave – and taste – like UHT. UHT in tea should be avoided at all costs, unless the only other option is not having tea at all. Even tea without any milk is preferable to tea with UHT. But I digress. Adding the water to the milk means the milk is warmed more slowly.
Now, you will need to do your own research before taking my word for it. As convinced as I am that putting the milk in the cup first is right, I caused a bit of a Twitter storm with the suggestion when researching this column. One of my friends felt so strongly as to say “NO! Whoever puts milk in tea first is just WRONG.” My Dad also had a lot to say…there’s a good chance I’ll be disowned by taking this stance in this column. Hi, Dad! The only real convincing argument was posited by George Orwell in his 1946 Evening Standard article on the eleven golden rules of tea drinking, entitled A Nice Cup Of Tea. He said you should always add the milk after the tea has brewed because “one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.” Fair point, George, fair point.
Why Do We Like Tea So Much, Anyway?
First of all, we like tea because we’re used to tea. It’s not only a social habit, it’s also a mild addiction. Tea contains caffeine, caffeine is addictive and it means we crave more. The taste of tea is more palate-friendly than coffee which, plus the lower caffeine levels, means parents will allow their children to drink (weak) tea a long time before they will be allowed coffee. Tea is also good for your health – antioxidants and all that. Lastly, we drink it because it’s traditional. Need an excuse to meet up with a friend in the afternoon? Arrange to meet for a cuppa. Having a personal drama? Your friend/sister/mum will put the kettle on. Check out next week’s post for more tea-worthy situations and how to make tea the British way!
Image via phrases.org.uk.