Dinner With The Omnivore

More tea, Vicar?

Posted on: June 15, 2010

British tea, what.

Britain, according to the ever-inaccurate Wikipedia, is the second largest per capita consumer of tea in the world. Ever since enterprising English merchants in China started swapping the stuff for class A drugs in the nineteenth century, tea has been seen as a quintessentially British tipple. Which makes about as much sense as the expat’s constant lament that he can’t get ‘proper British curry’.

The French have caught on to the Britsh tea thing even though they are clearly baffled by it, and various varieties of teabag are now fairly readily available in supermarkets. As well as the standard Lipton Yellow (nasty by anyone’s standards) you can also get some Gallic version of Tetley, and usually PG Tips in those stupid pointy teabags at an eye-watering price.

The question really is why on earth you’d want to. Teabags of whatever brand contain floor-sweepings, not tea. That’s what teabags are for – it’s nothing to do with your convenience, just a way of disguising the fact that you are being ripped off for something which has been harvested in a dustpan. Hats off to the evil marketing genius who came up with that one.

Have a good look at the contents of a teabag sometime. Now sweep the kitchen floor. I bet you can’t tell the difference between the two (apart from the cat hairs, crumbs and odd bits of chopped onion, obviously).

How long have those teabags been in there?

Mind you, given the sort of abuse to which British drinkers subject their tea, it could be argued that the good stuff is wasted on them and they might as well carry on buying low-grade rubbish. How many times have you been to some caff where the tea-maker has blatantly just thrown a handful of PG Tips teabags into a huge tin tea bucket and then left them there for hours before serving up a mug of unspeakable stewed muck cut with 50% milk? I’d sooner drink coffee. From Starbucks.

Here is some news for you all: tea is not orange. It does come in all sorts of colours, from a delicate yellow tint through to rich golden brown, but at no time and under no circumstances should it be bright orange. It’s not supposed to be made with half a pint of milk either. Some milk, if you like it that way, fair enough. But I can’t see how you can face the prospect of a cup of what amounts to watered down warm milk with orange colouring in it.

Ultimate British teapot

In fact, if you drop the milk business altogether, a whole new world of tea-drinking opens up before you. Teabags like PG are designed with the British market in mind, so they are specifically made to produce that evil-tasting orange liquid on the grounds that even if you do add all the full fat gold top in the fridge it might still taste of something. It doesn’t work either – the stuff still tastes like those horrible little bottles of milk they used to give you in school.

This is why you all think tea without milk is disgusting – it’s because you’re drinking the wrong tea. And you’re right, PG Tips and others of its ilk are indeed slightly more disgusting without milk than with it.

But most teas aren’t blended with milk in mind. Next time someone tries to dump dairy product in my Darjeeling I might have to get violent. And what are you all thinking about, pouring semi-skimmed into the Earl Grey? Vile, I tell you.

Rancid yak butter. Err .... not for me thanks.

Not that I’m going to get all snotty about tea additives and the ‘proper’ way to drink the stuff. Plenty of cultures add things to their tea – I’m told the Tibetans favour rancid yak butter, and while I’m generally open to new culinary experiences, I think I might be tempted to file that one away with the andouillette. So drink it with milk if you must, but you’ll enjoy your tea a whole lot more if you apply a bit of moderation. Apart from anything else, it’ll taste of tea. And lay off the teabags. Get a teapot. Buy some decent loose leaf tea – Ringtons and Adagio have plenty of it. You never know, they might even stock it in Sainsrose. Trust me, you’ll never look at PG Tips again.

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2 Responses to "More tea, Vicar?"

All very well, but have you seen the price Ringtons charge for shipping the stuff to France?
One has to accept that the French do not do tea just as the British do not do coffee.
Breakfast – café au lait (properly made; gorgeous)
Rest of the day – sweet strong black coffee
Mid-afternoon – Proper tea (which you can get)
Any other time – what’s the matter with wine (or at a pinch Teisseire+limonade)?

Clearly you will fit right in!

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