Crimes Against Tea

Collage: cups of tea.

I’m as fussy about tea as I am about beer, but perhaps in a slightly different way.

I start­ed drink­ing tea when I was about 2-years-old – weak and milky, then, out of a bot­tle. The not so fun side of this is that by the time I reached my teens I was on about ten cups a day and suf­fered with­draw­al symp­toms (migraine, faint­ness) if I missed a dose for some rea­son. Tea is, after all, a pow­er­ful stim­u­lant and vehi­cle for caf­feine, despite all the Great British Bake Off twee­ness that comes with it.

Over the years I’ve got to a health­i­er place with a gen­er­al cut­ting back and the odd decaff place­bo, though I can still be knocked out the next day if I don’t have a cup­pa mid-after­noon. And that’s one rea­son I often end up drink­ing tea in pubs, between or instead of pints.

There are oth­er good rea­sons too, of course: it’s a ter­rif­ic pick-me-up; it gives the palate and the liv­er a break; it’s warm­ing, which can be use­ful on a win­ter pub crawl for icy-fin­gered folk like me; and (per­haps not uni­ver­sal­ly applic­a­ble) it’s entire­ly his­tor­i­cal­ly appro­pri­ate in an inter-war improved pub. (Espe­cial­ly for a lady­like lady like wot I am.)

So, here are my thoughts on the qual­i­ty and pre­sen­ta­tion of tea, some of which apply to pubs, and some more gen­er­al.

  1. Just as with beer, how it’s treat­ed mat­ters. Fresh­ness and stor­age con­di­tions are the most impor­tant fac­tors: fan­cy teabags stored in a glass jar on a shelf in the sun for six months won’t taste as good as basic ones refreshed fre­quent­ly and kept in an air­tight con­tain­er in the dark.
  2. Let me put in my own milk. You are putting in too much, too ear­ly. Remem­ber, tea for me is a sub­sti­tute for espres­so, not bed­time Hor­licks.
  3. ‎Relat­ed: don’t rush it. Either leave the bag in, or let it brew for four or five min­utes.
  4. Fan­cy leaf tea is fine and can be tran­scen­dent (I remem­ber fond­ly a place in the City of Lon­don whose tea had an almost hop­py flow­er­i­ness) but, real­ly, bags prop­er­ly looked after taste great to me. So don’t put your­self out on my behalf.
  5. Sup­pos­ed­ly arti­sanal tea brands can do one. Many of the teas with the sex­i­est brands, biggest claims and fan­ci­est pack­ag­ing seem to be utter­ly mediocre – all about the upsell.
  6. Organ­ic tea, unlike organ­ic beer, is still a thing and, just as with organ­ic beer, seems to taste worse than the pes­ti­cide-laden vari­ety.
  7. ‎Local tea? Don’t be daft. You can grow tea in the UK but why both­er?
  8. The worst crime of all is tea that has some­how been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with cof­fee. I quite like cof­fee, I love tea, but the ghost of a stale cof­fee in my tea? Blech!

Now, to be fair, in my expe­ri­ence most pubs do a bet­ter cup­pa than the aver­age high street chain cof­fee shop, which might be worth remem­ber­ing next time you’re in a pub and, for what­ev­er, want some­thing oth­er than booze.

And, now I think about it, some of this isn’t that dif­fer­ent to how I am with beer after all: a basic prod­uct in decent con­di­tion trumps a fan­cy one that’s treat­ed and pre­sent­ed like rub­bish.

17 thoughts on “Crimes Against Tea”

    1. Pre­sum­ably, bags are the keg equiv­a­lent to leaf’s cask?
      Arti­sanal teas would be craft, I guess, although I sup­pose the range of fruit teas also fits in here.

      I can’t recall hav­ing many cups of tea in pubs ever – cof­fee, yes, but hard­ly ever tea. Where­as I often have tea in rug­by clubs. Hmmm, rather odd… I think I don’t expect pubs to do a decent cup of tea on one hand, and gen­er­al­ly don’t vis­it them when I want a cup of tea on the oth­er – tea for me is a late morn­ing or after­noon drink. And most rug­by clubs serve the tea with the teabag in, milk sep­a­rate to put in when you want to, so tend to make a decent fist of it even if the teabags them­selves are rarely all that good – which is actu­al­ly a rather close par­al­lel with the beer they offer as well.

  1. Couldn’t agree more.

    Real­ly annoys me how many pubs won’t do a basic cup­pa though. When it’s my turn to dri­ve in the win­ter I don’t want pints of lime and soda – I want tea! And I want it made with boil­ing water and decent teabags. It’s actu­al­ly bet­ter with less equip­ment (as opposed to cof­fee machine made tea), and I assume the vast major­i­ty of pubs have a ket­tle for staff use so why won’t they make me a cup of tea?!

    Once staff know me in these estab­lish­ments they have been known to take pity on me which is love­ly, but it should be stan­dard fare.

    1. I seem to recall one pub cit­ing ‘health and safe­ty’ as a rea­son for not putting the ket­tle on, which was direct­ly behind the staff mem­ber…

  2. Inter­est­ing. It’s actu­al­ly nev­er occurred to me to have a cup of tea in a pub – even when I’m there for break­fast I invari­ably get cof­fee. I guess I assume I’ll just get “builder’s tea”, dark and stewed, and which always seems to give me a much big­ger & more jit­tery caf­feine boost than the equiv­a­lent amount of cof­fee; per­haps there’s a tan­nin high in there some­where. I’m a mas­sive teabag snob, too, although you may actu­al­ly have changed my mind on that score – real­ly good leaf tea will always out­shine teabags, but how often does it have to be a real­ly good cup of tea?

    Agreed on ‘arti­san’ tea – com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion always seems to go along with bland­ness, even at the top/weird end. I remem­ber get­ting some­thing called “red zinger” from a Chi­nese street mar­ket in Lon­don, 30-odd years ago; God only knows what it had in it, but it was strong stuff (cleared your sinus­es right out). There are ‘red zingers’ in the tea aisle at Sainsbury’s now, but in my expe­ri­ence they’re a blend of hibis­cus and noth­ing much.

    More on tea, con­nois­seurism and craft beer here, from way back when I was a new­com­er to this blog­ging lark and hadn’t even heard of Beer Advo­cate. (I heard of it quite quick­ly after that.)

    1. @jeff Cross con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of serv­ing ves­sels. It’s much worse with con­fer­ences and events where the organ­is­ers serve the after­noon tea in the same flasks as the morn­ing cof­fee.

      1. But it seems to be only flasks which have the issue?? You can have a flask of tea as many times as you want and it will taste nice, but once it’s had cof­fee in the next time you have tea it tastes of foist and rub­ber. It needs prop­er­ly clean­ing and sani­tis­ing to get rid of the taste. It’s one of the worst flavours I know.

        How­ev­er I often have cups of tea in the same cup I just had cof­fee in at work and there seems to be very lit­tle prob­lem.

  3. Jarvis Cock­er on Desert Island Discs said tea should be the colour of the tof­fees in Qual­i­ty Street. I nicked his descrip­tion and have used it ever since.

  4. @landlady – yes, absolute­ly agree on just using a plain old ket­tle! It needs to be boil­ing, not cof­fee machine tem­per­a­ture. I should have added that to the list.

    1. I once got told in a local pub that they couldn’t serve tea for “health and safe­ty rea­sons”. I think I may have point­ed out the risks to staff’s health and safe­ty would be far high­er if I didn’t get a cup of tea. Or some­thing like that.

  5. Found out that my daugh­ter has joined the Tea Soci­ety at uni­ver­si­ty – in my day, we start­ed the Real Ale and Home Brew Soci­ety. What is the world com­ing to? 😉

  6. Lit­tle bit scared about this, but..

    I put the milk in tea first, a cou­ple of min­utes before the boil­ing water. Nev­er used to, switched a decade ago as it tastes bet­ter to me. I make a hun­dred cups of tea for old ladies on a Sat­ur­day and put the milk in first; nev­er had com­plaints (they hate my cof­fee you can stand a spoon in though).

    My point is, I don’t know ANYONE else who puts the milk in first. No-one else in my large office did, for instance. Loads of tea con­nois­seurs and com­mon­ers ridi­cul­ing the milk first brigade, which I think is a brigade of one.

    Am I real­ly Not Alone ?

    1. Milk first when using a Teapot is the One True Way (yes, even at work…)!

      Milk while the teabag is still in the mug should be a hang­ing offense.

      »Am I real­ly Not Alone ?<teabag>water, but they’re engi­neers so assume it’s lazi­ness rather than taste.

      How do you feel about the lit­tle (inde­struc­tible) glass mugs that you often get in church/village halls? Maybe they could all be com­man­deered, CE marked, and dis­trib­uted to hip­ster craft beer joints.

      1. Yup. The water needs to be boil­ing to cor­rect­ly brew nor­mal tea; with leaf tea, that hap­pens in the pot (which should be pre-warmed to pre­vent the tem­per­a­ture drop­ping too quick­ly to extract the flavour); with a teabag in a mug, it is equal­ly essen­tial not to put the milk in first, or else the water just isn’t hot enough and what you get isn’t tea, but a milky hot drink with a lit­tle tea flavour. Fair enough if that’s what you real­ly want, but a dread­ful thing to inflict on oth­er peo­ple who have a rea­son­able expec­ta­tion of a cup of actu­al tea if you offer them a cup of tea. Hanging’s way too good for such mis­cre­ants.

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