Why have the English and the Irish made such a poor thing of tea?

March 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

Charles Dickens is reputed, when handed a hot drink, to have responded along these lines: If this is tea, take it away and bring me coffee, and if this is coffee, take it away and bring me tea.

I believe he was in America, at the time. However, you don’t have to travel to America to get a terrible cup of tea. When you cross from Fishguard to Rosslare, or back again, all prospect of a decent cup of tea will be lost to you.

When I am offered a cup of tea, I usually opt for herbal tea. The herbal tea will be drinkable whereas the tea may be weak and tasteless. The tea bag has contributed greatly to the decline in the standard of tea. And then there are tea bags and tea bags. Is it not astonishing that these big tea companies employ tea tasters? Have these weak insipid concoctions passed some kind of test? Have these teas not been randomly selected?  What would the tea be like, if it had not been tested? It is hard to imagine that it could be worse than it is.

In contrast, coffee-drinking (not on the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing) has changed beyond recognition. My mother tells me that in the remotest parts of Ireland a cappuccino is to be had. The variety of coffees increases, and the making of coffee improves, but the same could not be said of tea. Yet more tea than coffee is drunk in Ireland and England. (The Irish, apparently, drink more tea per capita than any other nation.)

People, who would not baulk at making coffee with ground coffee in a cafetiere, baulk at making tea from loose tea in a pot.

The English and Irish may find it amusing that French people don’t boil water to make tea. Boiling the water may be all the Irish and English get right. The tea they often use is so deplorable that it needs more than boiled water to make it taste good.

Besides I would not even bet that the water is boiled. A friend of mine’s fledgling relationship was snuffed out when he offered to make her tea, or warm up the tea she was drinking, and carried out his offer by turning on the hot tap. When I was in Paris an English girl told me that they made tea from a defective hot tap; the water came out at, or close to, boiling point. You get used to it, she assured me. Get used to it? I can’t even get over the shock of anyone making tea from water, however hot, direct from a tap.

What would the French, so much more the connoisseurs than the English or Irish, have made of tea if it had been their national drink? Could the French have sunk to the low level of the dreary tea bag, so unsightly looking when it is used?

St Augustine, I think, stated that though people may be unable to fast, or give alms, they should forgive those who have offended them. So I would say that though you may resist loose tea (less paper used) and find it too much trouble to put tea leaves in your compost, could you, at least, buy fairtrade tea bags?

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§ 2 Responses to Why have the English and the Irish made such a poor thing of tea?

  • Amanda C. Smith says:

    A while ago I ordered some tea at the Four Seasons in Boston. What arrived was a pot of luke warm water, a selection of tea bags from the local supermarket and a jug of cream. The Four Seasons is a 5 Star Hotel. The craft of boiling the water by the Irish/English seem positively genius from this side of the pond!

  • Peripheria says:

    I brought this patron’s comment about her tea-drinking experience to the attention of the Four Seasons. I received this prompt and helpful reply (extract only):

    I am happy to assure you that we do take tea very seriously here at the Bristol Lounge, as we know that creating the perfect cup is a lost and dying art. We offer an assortment of loose leaf teas to choose from (herbal, black, and green teas are available), and serve the Chef’s selection of tea breads, pastries, and sandwiches. We have hand selected 14 types of tea to reflect a wide range of tastes and regions of the world. Our teas are imported by MEM tea, which is a Massachusetts based company that prides itself on custom tea blends such as our Blue Flower Earl Grey and Crimson Berry teas. Our ceramic tea pots are warmed prior to tea being measured out, and our loose tea is steeped in boiling water and strained table side. A selection of sugar, honey, and sugar crystal sticks are on hand for those who care for sweetener. We take special pride in our tea experience here at the Four Seasons Boston, as we recognize the rich history that accompanies of the afternoon tea tradition. We do have tea bags on hand, which are occasionally used for the finer leaved tea that we employ in the dining room. These tea bags are prepared to order though, and are supplied by our tea importer so that they do not inhibit the flavor of the tea.

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