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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Related: don’t rush it. Either leave the bag in, or let it brew for four or five minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Organic tea, unlike organic beer, is still a thing and, just as with organic beer, seems to taste worse than the pesticide-laden variety.
- Local tea? Don’t be daft. You can grow tea in the UK but why bother?
- 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.