Crimes Against 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.

A nice cuppa

There’s some­thing very civilised about the increased avail­abil­i­ty of tea and cof­fee in pubs.

For one thing, it can help to slow the pace of drink­ing: some­times, you just want to take it easy. It also means that peo­ple like Bailey’s lit­tle broth­er who doesn’t drink, or des­ig­nat­ed dri­vers, get to look a bit less like lit­tle kids suck­ing on end­less Pan­da Pops.

Bar staff aren’t always delight­ed at the prospect of mak­ing five cap­pu­ci­nos dur­ing a busy ser­vice, of course, so we always ask nice­ly…