Have you ever wondered why the British drink tea so much? Perhaps you think that we’re obsessed with this strange beverage with its oriental origins and milky additives. Well, we are. You see, tea is more than a drink to us. It’s a way of life. Let me explain.
It’s how we problem solve. If you need a strategy to avoid certain disaster, are required to make crucial business decisions, or you have some IKEA furniture to assemble, taking 20 minutes for a cuppa is the way to go. It’s a kind of meditation; a sacred moment of calm. We know intuitively that the best ideas appear when we’re not thinking about them; they pop up from the abyss of good ideas while we’re doing the washing up or walking to work or, that’s right, having a cup of tea.
It’s how we relax, especially after a long or stressful day. Taking time for a cup of tea when you get home is the transition from work time to chill out time. Like problem solving, it’s a type of meditation as well as an invitation to put your feet up and forget about the day. Plus tea is warm, soothing and delicious. In the absence of an expenses-paid holiday in the Caribbean, what could be more relaxing?
It’s how we socialise. As a reserved and slightly socially awkward bunch, we welcome an icebreaker such as the offering of our saviour cup of tea. It’s also an excuse to visit someone, because for some reason an excuse is needed to do something wild like visit a friend we haven’t seen for a while.
It’s how we deal with grief, catastrophic news and disaster. For reasons no one can remember we British are extremely good at not showing our emotions. In fact, unless you’re under seven, it is frowned upon to freely express your emotions in public. So when this is the societal norm, what does one do when one receives cataclysmic news or suffers a terrible trauma? Have a cup of tea, obviously. And then someone will awkwardly pat you on the shoulder and you will say something like, “Oh well, I didn’t use my legs much anyway”.
There are, of course, rules surrounding our beloved drink. Being bad at making tea is on par with having body odour or leprosy, especially in the workplace where you are required to make tea for your colleagues. It’s good to ask people how strong they like their tea, alongside the usual questions about milk and sugar, so you can brew accordingly. If you have a tradesperson in your house – a man to fix your boiler or whatever – it’s considered good form to offer him a cup of tea. It might be his eighth job of the day and he may have had fifty-seven cups of tea already, but, goddamnit, you offer him one anyway. Biscuits aren’t mandatory unless you’re the one hosting the tea-related event, in which case you must offer them but some people may be trying to cut calories so you must be tactile about the subject.
And then there are the different types of tea. There are a bewildering number from which to choose – it would be easy for the new Briton to be overwhelmed with choice while trying to make the right decision at the supermarket. For me earl grey is king of the teas, although English breakfast is always a winner. Any ‘builder’s tea’ would be my recommendation if you were in need of guidance, though which brands qualify as builder’s tea is also up for discussion. Yorkshire Tea is the bee’s knees, but you wouldn’t be outcast from society for serving up PG Tips or Tetley.
However, there is assam tea if you’re feeling fancy and redbush for a decaffeinated option, but never, ever the lapsang souchong unless you like the taste of bonfire. Then there’s the option of loose leaf for those with too much time on their hands or teabags for everyone else. I confess that I do like teapots, though, so if you’re feeling terribly grown up you could invest in one and bust it out to impress your guests at any of the above opportunities. However, how much milk to put in the tea is a source of much contention, and we’re divided on whether sugar should be included or omitted. I also know how middle class you are by whether you put the milk in first or not. But, my friends!, let’s not argue amongst ourselves! We’re all here as fans and enthusiasts in order to celebrate our mighty tea-drinking culture.
It pleases me to learn that other nations have adopted tea in their national cultures too (Australia, for example) although I highly doubt they will ever be as dedicated to The Cause as we British. And I disapprove of people forcing others to choose between tea and coffee – the two drinks are not arch enemies, we’re allowed to love both drinks for their different purposes. But, at the end of the day, tea is our national drink and a source of much pride in my opinion. Or perhaps I’ve been away from the UK for too long and I’m feeling nostalgic. The tea just isn’t as good overseas.
Yes please, I’d love a cuppa. Little bit of milk and no sugar. And don’t you dare put the milk in first, I WILL taste the difference.