Tea People

John Walker, who is a Christian (such things are important to point out), has often waxed lyrical about Coffee People. I�m a much calmer person than John, and am a Tea Person. Like the red squirrel, Tea People are being endangered by the imported, American Coffee People. I must point out that when I say �tea�, I mean the dried, fermented leaves of the tea bush Camellia Sinesis, and not a gauzy sachet of some flowers and pulverised fruit. The needs of *that* kind of person are amply met by the provision described below.

Coffee is OK in its place, I suppose. There are times (late night driving, meetings and so forth) when it�s important to stay awake and caffeine seems to be the least damaging way of doing so. I�ve tried sticking pens in my thighs, propping up my eyelids surreptitiously and eating endless Polo mints, but coffee seems to do the trick more effectively than tea.

There are many things I don�t like about coffee. I don�t like its pervasive after taste: still being able to taste the coffee I drunk an hour ago at the back of my mouth. I don�t like the jagged, jumpy caffeine feeling it gives. I don�t like the churning stomach ache I get if I have more than a teeny espresso. In particular, I don�t like the paraphernalia and palaver involved in making a �proper� cup of coffee. Indeed, most British people don�t really like �real� coffee, if they�d only admit it to themselves. For a nation brought up on instant, the sudden proliferation of macchiatos, ristrettos, mochas, Americanos, lattes, mocha lattes, frappes and so forth is pleasing, but confusing and ultimately disappointing.

My mother finally had to admit defeat after the last coffee shop in town that would serve instant went out of business and now chokes down stewed filter coffee. She steadfastly refuses to try anything else and freezes in panic if the waiter/barista asks her what blend she�d like.

Nonetheless, she likes coffee, and this is what coffee shops sell. Sometimes it�s very good, sometimes it�s corporate bland and sometimes it�s nasty, but it�s all made the same way and all usually tastes of coffee, at least to me.

Now consider the tea drinker. I go to a coffee shop with a Coffee Person, say John Walker. John orders an Americano, and is asked what bean, blend and grind he�d like. We go and hang around the little tray at the end of the counter. The barista (or whatever they like to call themselves) busies herself/himself, slotting metal things into place in an enormous steel contraption that looks like a Newcomen engine, and starts building up a head of steam. Clouds of the stuff puff out of the top and sides, and the device starts making hissing, whirring, clanking and gurgling noises. Eventually, after all this fuss, a teaspoonful of black liquid is excreted with a “phut”.

But that�s not all. The then barista takes the tiny cup of precious fluid behind a big screen. Lights flash, dials spin. Several minutes later, John is presented with an enormous cardboard cup of steaming brown stuff. He sips and pronounces whether it�s good, bad or indifferent.

Whilst all this heavy machinery has been churning away, I have ordered a tea. The barista goes to the little cardboard box of teabags and grabs one at random. At this point, I will usually ask for a specific tea and get glowered at by the barista. He/she will then perform the incredibly complex task of opening the little paper sachet, taking out the teabag, placing it in a paper cup (if I�m staying in, it�s at this point I will demand a proper mug), ensuring the tag dangles over the rim, and then adding hot water.

The cup of hot water with a teabag in it is then placed on the little tray thing. I have already paid the absurd sum of at least 1.50 for this. I then have to add the milk and sugar myself and pound at the cheap teabag to get some actual tea out of it.

It surprises me that a cup of coffee, which involves complicated technical feats with superheated steam, usually costs only a few pence more than a cup of tea, which is a cup of hot water and a teabag.

Trendy coffee shops (no, not *that* one) display an array of different roasts and blends to choose from, if you�re a coffee person. There are at least as many different varieties and styles of tea as coffee and what do I get? A teabag in a paper sachet. If I were a herbal tea person, I�d at least be asked what scent I�d like my hot water to be.

As for the tea I receive, if it’s in a paper cup, it mainly tastes of paper. If it’s in a china cup, it usually tastes weak and slightly burnt, because of the poor quality tea in the bag.

The HSE standard guidelines indicate that on average a cup of tea contains half as much caffeine as a cup of normal coffee. If you’re drinking espresso (and if you’re a Coffee Person, you will be), then quadruple that at least. Tea People are much calmer than Coffee People and so we put up with our shoddy treatment far more often than we should.

So, Tea People, stand up for your rights. Stand up for the tinkle of a spoon on china cup, stand up for teapots. Demand an end to the infringement by the Coffee and Herbal “tea” People of the tea shelves in the supermarket: refuse to be squeezed into a corner by the demands of these jittery and tasteless folk. Tea is the drink of the British – of Gladstone, of Queen Victoria, of Nora Batty and Thora Hird.

If you would like to be a Tea Person, I recommend the following:

Clipper Organic Loose Leaf Assam for when you want to be woken up
Tea Direct teabags for every day
Clipper Organic Single Estate Darjeeling for when you want to relax
Clipper Single Estate Ceylon for when you want to spend some quality time with the teapot
The Tea House in Covent Garden
Bettys in Harrogate and York
Boston Tea Party in Bath. Despite being full of jittery coffee freaks, they do nice Darjeeling in a proper teapot.
A nice bone china teapot and a little filter basket, available at Whittards, so you can take out loose leaf tea and stop your tea from stewing in the pot.

Avoid the following:
Decaffeinated tea – if you’re about to go to bed, have rooibos.
Ayeurvedic tea, because it tastes like a hippy’s armpit and doesn’t appear to have any Ayeurvedic effects: it isn’t an emetic and doesn’t cause diarrhoea.
Anything with the word “detox” in it

And, if you’re an American:
Orange Pekoe refers to the leaf type, not the tea variety. It’d be like asking for “medium ground” and not specifying what beans you’d like ground in this way.
Tea does not taste nice with cream. Milk, lemon or black.
Tea People bring their own tea bags when visiting America. Infer from this what you will about the quality of tea offered in your supermarkets. In fact, picket them till they see sense.

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