The Evening Standard published George Orwell’s essay on ‘a nice cup of tea’ over 70 years ago. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of individual tea bags, electric kettles and an ever increasing variety of teas. Therefore, as an avid tea drinker, I felt it appropriate to update his original treatise.
Tea drinking is synonymous with Englishness…
…Other countries may have perversions of preparation and drinking rituals, but the following points outline supplementary guidelines for the Englishman’s convenience.
They are as follows:
- Breakfast or everyday tea should drunk from a mug . This offers a larger serving, appropriate for dipping biscuits. This also avoids delusions of grandeur— drinking cheap tea from a fine china tea cup is akin to drinking ale from a champagne flute.
- The tea drinker must strive to drink the tea at optimum temperature. After it has cooled enough so as not to impair the flavour, but hot enough that the flavour of milk is not more apparent than that of the tea. If this happens, it should be poured away.
- Contrary to Orwell’s advice, African tea is acceptable before lunchtime and largely unavoidable in tea blends. Afternoon tea should be a more delicate variety, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Lighter teas can also be drunk at bedtime.
- If pouring from an electric kettle, the water must be poured slowly and carefully after boiling has finished, to avoid any limescale finding its way into the cup.
- It is more than acceptable to add milk to all black tea. However, the appropriate shade differs with different kinds. A rich copper is appropriate for stronger blends of assam or ceylon tea, whereas darjeeling or a good Earl Grey should have a slightly more pallid almost cloudy appearance.
- To reiterate Orwell, adding sugar to tea is no better than adding coca cola to fine scotch, or tomato ketchup to a prime steak. it is unnecessary and contrary to one’s health.
- Loose leaf tea is vastly superior to tea bags and should aways be chosen in preference to the latter.
- If entertaining guests, tea should be brewed in a pot and not the cup. It is also appropriate to offer more than one variety of tea.
- Lapsang shouchong is an abomination and should not be drunk by any civilised human being.
I must also add the caveat that, tea is essential to one’s vitality and must be drunk in whatever style that circumstances permit. That is, any of the rules can be discarded if adhering to them will prevent one from drinking tea at all. However, when possible, the highest standards of tea making should be observed.
These are simply my own guidelines. I would refer anyone to Orwell’s original essay on tea for further suggestions of good practice. I have avoided the subject of which biscuits, sweets or tea cakes should be served, as opinions and options are so diverse that it would be pointless to suggest any common taste.