Teatotal? You betcha!
This past summer, I gave up drinking my usual three pints a day of heavily stewed Yorkshire Gold tea. Bar one — Barry’s Irish Breakfast — it’s the strongest tea you can get. I love it, but felt that consumption had become excessive.
There were no withdrawal cravings, but there was a continuous two-day headache. After which, I found myself rising in the mornings in an altogether lighter, brighter, more energetic mood. It seems that once the habit is broken, that feeling of gasping for the first cuppa of the day simply disappears.
As an aside on the power of caffeine — when the EU referendum was held a few weeks later in June*, a single pint of tea at 1am kept me wide-eyed and bouncing with energy throughout the night until David Dimbleby’s momentous ‘We’re out’ announcement, shortly before 5am. (And then, and then – if memory serves correctly, although a certain amount of sleep-deprived haze might be obscuring matters — I’m pretty sure that somewhere between 6 and 9am I then baked and iced several dozen fairy cakes and set off, slightly manic, to help man the cake stand at a fundraiser for the local school. Whoohoo, who needs drugs to stay awake?)
Socially, however, it’s difficult to avoid tea entirely. After a few caffeine-free weeks, I had a cup of Earl Grey with friends. Because I don’t care for coffee and it was too early to hit the gin.
After so many years of extra-strength builder’s tea, the Earl Grey tasted terrible. Pallid and bland and watery dishwater.
Needing a social-drinking tea, I stuck with the Earl Grey. And then something unexpected happened. Having given my tastebuds to recover from the years of tannin-drenched builder’s tea — I gradually, eventually, found it to be the delicious, delicate drink I last enjoyed as a teenager.
I’m not the only one rediscovering tea. Despite the plethora of high street coffee shops, we in Britain are and always have been a nation of tea-drinkers. We drink 165 million cups a day (three times as many as coffee). And just as coffee has undergone something of a renaissance, with single-origin varieties and improved preparation techniques, loose-leaf and speciality teas are also ready for a comeback. Now we have functional teas, teas for different times of the day, teas that help you get going and teas that purport to help you go to sleep. There is no longer any time of day when an appropriate cup of tea is not an option.
Imagine the fun we’re going to have. There never was anything more British, after all, than arguing about how to brew tea, even among those who use teabags. Are you a dunker? How many minutes should the bag be left in? Do you squeeze the bag? To say nothing of milk and sugar issues.
Inspired by the Earl Grey, I’m dusting off a teapot. Being Editor of The Taster, I’m thinking of organic and Fairtrade teas such as those produced by Qi Teas (from China); Tchai Ovna (Scotland’s original Tea House, in Glasgow – stocks over 100 delicious and nutritional teas; they also run a vegetarian restaurant) and the Hebridean Tea Store (100+ selection of teas, 100% natural & organic and yes, amazingly, put together on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Let none of us ever claim to have been limited by mere geography.)
As an Editor, I get an awful lot of press releases about tea. But a genuinely interesting one is that, recently, a London School of Tea has launched. Well, what better capital city for it? Given our reputation as a nation of tea-drinkers, I find this an immensely pleasing event. The School offers training to commercial clients — restaurants, tea-shops and so on — but also to novices who wish to excel in the art of tea-making. Sensory training is provided, among other exciting topics. The founder of the School, Lucy Chappell-Wright, has about as extensive a CV in Tea as can be imagined. She has worked at a tea estate in Darjeeling, a research centre in Assam, the National Institute of Tea Management in Bengal, and she has also studied the Japanese tea ritual in Osaka. According to Lucy, teas can be matched to foods just as wine can; a topic we’ll be looking at in our Summer issue (due out June 2017; subscribe here if you’d like a lovely printed paper copy – so retro, so Hipster!).
Enjoy National Tea Day. To my mind, teatotalism – har har – has never looked so appealing ♥ — C T-P, Editor The Taster
UPDATE: since writing this piece, our Editor has discovered Assam tea — the connoisseur’s answer to Builder’s/morning tea — and, swayed by several reports that tea (along with about three dozen other food items, but what the hey) contains the secret of eternal and youthful life, is back on three pints a day.
To take a course or learn more about tea, see thelondonschooloftea.com
To get 15% discount off Qi Teas, quote code TASTER15
*The main body of this article was first published in The Taster magazine, Winter 2016-17. Back issues and new subscriptions are available, at incredibly good value, here