Was tea always the sad brown liquid it is today?
by Metodej Novotny
Britain is famous for its tea. British soldiers during World War II often abandoned their tanks to make tea. Solution: ask them not to? Not an option. They just fitted boiling kettles inside the tanks so they could have a cuppa while liberating Europe. While 19th century France called 5pm “green hour" after the specific green colour of absinthe, sober Britain opted for 5 o’clock tea. Britain even allowed tea to confuse the order of meals – when you say dinner, do you mean supper or tea? No wonder everyone just constantly eats sandwiches, people here have hardly any idea what meal they’re having half of the time.
You wouldn’t be wrong to expect it must be something extraordinary that causes all this upheaval. A whole nation placing one cup of hot dark liquid ahead of all social conversations (second only to weather) must have a good reason to do so. So I supposed. And I was very disappointed to find out the British tea fame is based merely on the quantity and not the slightest bit on quality.
The so-called famous British cup o’tea is nothing more than an old boring teabag being tortured in hot water with extra fuss over when to add milk.
And they don’t even let it brew long enough!Surprisingly, it hasn’t always been so. Jerome Klapka Jerome, English early 20th century writer, insists on “two spoonsful for each cup, and don't let it stand more than three minutes”. Readers may be surprised -how you can put the black dust from a teabag that they associate with tea on a spoon? Let me elucidateTea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a tree the leaves of which are the source of all the tea, in China and elsewhere. Be it green, black or white tea, it all starts with the same leaf and only the following processing determines whether it ends up as black or green tea. The rule of thumb of quality is the younger the leaf, the better; and so the best teas are prepared from the leaf buds only, then from the first leaves, then from second and third leaves and worse teas even from the fourth leaf counting from the top of the twig. Then come the teabags – fifth and sixth leaves are harvested, grounded so they give at least some taste to water when brewed and packed into tea bags together with colouring and aroma. No wonder they taste as they do, and that they give you a stomach ache so bad you need to add milk to make it drinkableAs surprising as it may seem, tea may actually be a very delightful beverage. It used to be – it would never gain such a popularity if it always tasted as it does today when its consumption is kept alive purely by conservatism with a sprinkle of patriotism.
Give the real tea a try.
We have a little tea shop here in Aberdeen, MacBeans on Little Belmont Street that, despite its abysmal supply and storing conditions, is a good starting point for the transition from teabags to…well, to tea. Ask for Ceylon if you like a honey taste or for Assam if you like it bitter. I wouldn’t be as courageous as to get my green tea from there, but black tea should be all right.
Follow Klapka Jerome’s instructions: two spoonfuls per cup and let it brew in boiling water for three minutes. Strain. Smell it and taste it. You’re hooked.