Friday, February 24, 2006

Militant Tea Drinker

tea_china




This is not a post about tea. This is not a post about the quaint traditions of this fair isle and this fair city when it comes to tea drinking. This is a call to arms. This is a crusade. This is about British soldiers in World War II stopping their tanks just after landing in Normandy and making a cuppa. This is about what makes us human, what makes us whole, what gives us something to believe in. This is about a lack of respect. I'm not sure what this is about now, I've lost my train of thought with all the ranting. Ah, yes.
I'm an ordinary sort of British bloke. I like football. I like cricket. I enjoy taunting Germans about sausage. You know, an ordinary sort of Brit. In fact, I would go as far to say I'm a typical Londoner, in that a generation ago my family didn't live anywhere near the place and now that we do, we've all got South London accents and are fiercely proud of it. So, frankly the love of a cup of tea is ingrained in us. It's probably something in the water. Thinking about it, it was probably because the water was so bad that we became such crazed tea drinkers in the first place. No, actually now I think about it some more, it was probably because the water was so bad that we became such crazed beer drinkers.
Getting to the point finally, it dawned on me today as I bought my cup of tea at the station kiosk this morning, that getting hold of a decent cup of tea has become something of a trial. You can forget Starbucks, Coffee Republic and all that because despite the vast selection of tea they might have on offer, steaming the crap out of a tea bag in a vast mug, drowning it in milk and then leaving the bag to float about like Laura Palmer does not constitute making a cup of tea. Your average greasy spoon still makes a good mug of tea if your very hung over and need something to suck down that bacon sandwich with, but not a decent cup of tea, not the refined fragrant drink that we built an empire on, not the same refined fragrant drink we were too busy drinking to realise we'd lost an empire, swiftly followed by the realisation that empires are a bit rubbish on the whole and are probably best avoided.
There is a reason that there is so much ceremony about a cup of tea, the time and effort are worth it. You end up with something so satisfying at the end of all that palaver with tea leaves and warming pots and all that. To be honest, it is still alive and well in most places outside London. The girlfriend's grandmother still uses leaves and only breaks out the tea bags when the girlfriend goes up to see her.
What am I really saying? I'm probably saying that I love a good mug of tea with the paper and a fry up but I sometimes hanker after bone china and white linen, proper tea pots and tiny sandwiches with wafter thin slices of cucumber and tomato. Something a bit more genteel and probably a bit more starched.

23 comments:

Raspberry Sour said...

Alas, the problem has swiftly spread beyond the borders of empire into former colonies large and small. I've completely given up ordering tea anywhere other than my own kitchen (and of course, my mother's). You have all my sympathies, and my military prowess, such as it is, to boot.

I think I actually wrote a post about this recently, and specifically James Beard's call to tea-drinking arms back in the 1970s. Same complaints, different bell-bottoms. Hmm, will have to troll through the archives.

Jasmine said...

Yup, 'tis a problem that's made itself known over here. I'm just glad that we've got a couple of decent places to buy good loose-leaf teas here (rather surprising, given where I live).

I had lunch at a chefs' school the other week and asked for some tea. They brought me a pot and let it sit on the table for about 12 minutes before they brought out the teabag. I sent it back and gave the server a lesson on how to make tea properly. The house manager actually thanked me...

j

Hanna said...

Being an American/German (yes, we eat a lot of sausages), I grew up with more coffee than tea, but damn, coming to Japan has really made me fall in love with good loose leaf tea. Of course, we don't drown the flavor in milk and sugar... that's a completely different drink left to the British tea (ko-cha) drinkers. How do you take your tea?

Hanna

ggattoo said...

please leave that building- british-empire-on-cup-of-the bullshit; 1. because you're a second generation inmigrant (so you'll be never as brit as you wanna be)
2. Where does the tee come from? from the bloody Brit colonisation which is a shame on you. An average Brit never ever had tee, only after making people in India miserable had became tee available for all Brits
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN:)))

ggattoo said...

btw. i am a green-tee lover and a great coffee fun, but i am totally conscious about the fact that people are slaving for my one euro capuccino
you shouldn't gloryfy certain things, if you know what i mean

Pille said...

I like my tea, but as I come from a country that doesn't have such well established tea making and drinking rules, I'm not so specific about it.
Your post reminded me of an entertaining article in the Observer Food Monthly just under a year ago, where Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall discusses the making of a decent cup of tea:
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/foodmonthly/story/0,9950,1481347,00.html

Monkey Gland said...

Ggattoo: Fair comment, though I'll only ever be as much of a Brit as suits me. As as regular reader of this site will know I am fiercly proud of my background. I am however the sum of all parts of my upbringing so can take pride in all aspects of it. Yes, there are myriad shameful aspects to Britains history, as there are the history of all nation states. You'll note that I do not glorify the notion of empire, but dismiss it. Having said that I appreciate yor honesty and like having fiesty feedback!

Kate said...

Do you have a favorite brand of tea to recommend to make a decent cup of tea?

keiko said...

ALthough I'm not a tea person, love the picture. Really sweet.

fjl said...

I love the 'lost my train of throught with ranting' ( about an issue/principle) tres Britannique! Yes, there's a time for fancy cups. But they're a tear jerker these days, with the last of that generation dying. Well done for mentionning it x

Dagny said...

Teabags are for busy mornings as in "I have overslept and now barely have enough time to get out the door, let alone have some tea."

On weekends, I pull out the teapot and the loose leaf stuff. If it's a particularly lazy day, then there are little sandwiches. Perhaps a scone too. But not those horrid things they call scones that they sell at Starbuck's. OK. The scones are just an excuse to buy the Devon cream actually.

Now I'm going to have to run out to market. *sigh*

Sam said...

I've been trying to get hold of one of those bone china cups and saucers over here because I have been pining after drinking my tea in a more refined fashion than a in a mug. It reminds me of my lovely grandmother. However, I did stop drinking milk in my tea, as I am getting on a bit, that was probably in the days when we still had an empire, long before I left Blighty's fair shores.
But noo milk in my tea doesn't make me any less British than being second generation does. You are a Brit enough for me.
It is good to be aware of our ugly history, and to be humble about it, but it is not necessary to apolgize for it in every piece of creative writing, we ever do.
Sam

Barbara said...

I'm a tea leaves fan. It always amazes me that most Auckland cafés would not dream of serving instant coffee but are happy to serve tea bag tea. One of the few Auckland cafés to serve leaf tea is at Allpress Espresso, NZ's top coffee roaster.

Amy Sherman said...

C'mon Sam, apologizing is one of the thing you Brit's do best! Sorry sorry sorry, etc.

Rose said...

With a chinese mom, I almost always have tea with tea leaves--mostly varieties from taiwan or hangzhou.

But whenever I've been to the UK or hung out with british friends, I love having tea with milk in a fancy cup and saucer--complete with biscuits. It's a very formal contrast to my leaves-in-a-pot method. Because I tend to do it with friends, it becomes a very social activity--where as, my normal tea drinking habits are much more single affairs (accompanying me as I try to memorize another set of chinese characters for class).

b'gina said...

I drink so many cups of marginal tea because I tell myself I don't have the time, but, you're right, there is nothing so satisfying as a well-brewed cuppa.

Sam, if you see this comment, try eBay for bone china cups. I've gotten some gorgeous ones there.

vanessa said...

that's what i like about tea. there's usually some sort of ritual behind it. i've actually cut down the coffee consumption in favor of tea simply b/c i can keep a canister of the good loose leaf stuff and a strainer/pot thingy in my office. a good excuse for a break. i have yet to keep a box of cookies or sweets to go with it. i tend to snarf them all down in one day.

found your blog through Andrew's site and i really enjoy the Londoner's insight. dig the writing and photos, too.

Sam said...

oh yeah, well in that case I am sorry!
Blame it all on me.

tea with the birds said...

I only trust two people in the world to make me a cup of tea; i'm one of them and the other is my closest friend and fellow tea admirer.

Craig said...

Here is how to make the perfect cup of tea - courtesy of none other than Douglas Adams himself!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A61345

Sylvia said...

This is a bit late after the posting date of this entry...but I have just stopped by to read you on the behest of food blogger CHUBBY HUBBY. I had to comment on this entry because I just returned from my favorite tea hangout. I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and my tea house of choice is a lovely place called Steeps. It is a haven in a place like Cowtown. It is all loose tea...they don't serve coffee. It is quite a diverse crowd. They have loose tea from around the world.
I mostly drink green or white varieties.

I too love the opportunity to go to tea events. My Mom's church ladies use to put on an annual fall tea. Ah...I miss the little sandwiches and dainty squares.

I was on a cruise ship about 7 years ago...and delighted that during the ten day voyage they offered two afternoons where there was High Tea. Passengers had to dress for tea and all the servers wore white gloves...it was very high end. Most delightful.

lnielsen said...

I was always a coffee person, so it's only recently that I got started getting into teas more. However, never tried matcha green tea powder. Would something like this work for a coffee lover like me? :
matcha
Would appreciate your input. Peace

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