I’m English and this means that from my tenderest of years I have been socially engineered to drink tea. I have been conditioned from birth to understand that the offer of a ‘nice cup of tea’ is generally regarded as the definitive answer to all of lifes crises.
The perfect example is that on the day that I was diagnosed with a life threatening condition, the immediate reaction to the news from my grandmother was “I’ll put the kettle on, I’m sure you’d like a cup of tea”. Right at that moment there were actually few things that I desired less than a cup of tea, but I just didn’t have the heart to say so.
It may well be a national stereotype and a horrible cliché, but I have to admit that it really is hard to think of many things that are as calming, as satisfying, and as easily affordable as a good cuppa.
A ‘good’ cuppa
Herein lies the problem, whilst a good cup of tea is a wonderful thing, I have also been socially conditioned to never drink a good cup of tea.
With the exceptions of India and Kenya, wherever I travel, the tea that I am offered invariably comes from a tea bag, which is full of a dust that gives itself up easily when submerged in water, but really doesn’t taste of anything much at all.
Despite the fact that they proudly proclaim themselves as a nation of tea lovers, the English are the worst of all, supermarket teabags generally bought because they are the cheapest are the order of the day, and they often taste quite appalling.
The strangest thing is that I’ve either never realised, or never stopped to think about the fact that what I drink is actually total crap. The reason that it is strange, is that I spend a fortune on shopping for food and drink, and I pay very careful attention to every ingredient that I buy.
I read about and go to speciality shops to buy coffee. I can taste the difference between good and bad coffee, as well as more subtle variations from different regions, and if it isn’t great, then I don’t want to drink it. Why is it then, that I don’t have the same pickiness, why actually do I have total indifference to the quality of the tea that I buy.
I’m not alone, apparently the population of the UK drank more than 200,000,000 cups of tea a day last year. That’s a hell of a lot of tea, and I really wonder how much of it is actually worth drinking. Approximately 3% of the tea sold in the UK is loose leaf, the only way to make a really decent cup, which means that the vast majority of people settle for tasteless and uninspiring brews like I have.
My tastebuds have recently had some decent tea passing over them, and they have dictated that I have to do something, so I’m making a simple resolution.
From now on I’m going to apply the same rule to tea as I do to everything else that I put in my mouth. Get the best that I can afford, and if it doesn’t taste fantastic then don’t bother with it at all.
In my quest for the perfect cuppa, I should start out by avoiding all of the Tetley and other supermarket bought teabags, because teabags are evil, and no matter how good the quality of tea inside them will never make a good cup because they do not let the leaves swell and expand.
I then need to start making tea properly, and since I’ve consistently bought and drunk crap tea throughout my adult life, I am probably not the best person to tell anyone how to do that.
The lovely Henrietta Lovell, aka the rare tea lady, is the perfect person to provide some answers, as you can see in the following video, with written instructions on her website here.
Where to buy good tea
Unless you live in the tiniest of villages then it really shouldn’t be that difficult to find good tea. Here in Barcelona, there are a host of speciality shops offering me every kind of tea that my little heart could possibly desire.
For anyone living in the UK, it’s fairly easy. You could do a lot worse than pointing your web browser at Henrietta’s company website: Rare Tea Company, or Postcard Teas, and having a look through their wide selection.
You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to get better quality tea, if you don’t want to splash out on one of the speciality teas on those websites, then you will already see an improvement in taste by buying loose leaf tea from the supermarket.
I’ve recently subscribed to a new website which gets people to record what tea they are drinking and then give it a rating and tasting notes. Checking what other people are saying about the taste is always a good idea before buying anything new. You can find the site at steepster.com, it’s free to join and really quite fun.