Choppers is an unhappy chimpanzee. The last surviving star of PG Tips’ comedy adverts, she is maladjusted and insular according to Sharon Redrobe, Chief Executive of Twycross Zoo. While she is now learning simian interaction, a new Japanese study suggests the health benefits of tea-drinking are overstated: it can actually impede the popular-blood pressure medicines, ‘beta blockers’. With this in mind, we Brits must ask ourselves if we’re dangerously addicted.
When I am offered tea, I say, “No, thank you.”
The offer-er looks surprised or offended, even if we’ve been through this a thousand times. It’s as if I brazenly declared my dislike for ‘fun’ or ‘breathing’. The consumption of tea so deeply permeates British society that the idea anyone wouldn’t like it, or actively dislikes it, is a shock.
Tea drinking is an institution. It crosses the class divide, from faux-Victorian ‘Afternoon Tea’ in Mayfair hotels to a steady stream of brew to keep builders building. It crosses Britain’s multicultural patchwork: Chinese, Persians, Indians and Irish, Pakistanis and Australians all join the party with special rituals and flavours. For many, it signifies the evening meal.
There is a cohort, however, who suffer in silence. I have unearthed some such pariahs.
“I’m just indifferent to tea. Please don’t tell me off.”
“I only really like it because it makes drinking hot water acceptable.”
And an expletive, repressed voice from the ether, “I really ****ing hate tea.”
It’s clear from the first quotation that, even shielded by the anonymity my highly scientific Facebook poll provides, admitting one’s indifference is terrifying. The subjugation some non-tea drinkers bear can boil over to resentment.
As well it might. Tea is the basis of so many everyday social rituals that an unwillingness to sip something that scalds your tongue and fills you with the queasy sensation of having just ingested gone-off mud is a real impediment. In the office environment, trust and rapport is established by the underlings or interns ‘doing the tea round’. You endear yourself to your friends’ parents by making a decent cuppa. For many reticent romantics at the end of a first date, the offer, “Would you like to come up for tea?” is the only permissible innuendo. The coded message is such that I actually bought some Earl Grey once, in case anyone took my offer literally.
There is historical pedigree to tea, first brought to Europe by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century from China. Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, introduced it to the English court and we never looked back. Brits have a certain myopia when it comes to tea’s lineage though: the Boston Tea Party famously kicked off a bloody war in the Americas. Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean must know that the East India Company perpetrated many of the horrors of empire, but few pause to think that the ‘T’ in ‘EITC’ might as well stand for ‘tea’. The First Opium War with China was fought to sell Chinese peasants heroin, in an effort to raise funds for buying…you guessed it.
Rather than remember these black marks on its character, we glorify tea as a symbol, as if we were drinking milky patriotism. “Keep calm and drink tea!” order the Blitz-spirited posters. Well I won’t. I would burn my tongue and swear, which would give away my position to the Germans. As we all know from Michael Gove, once the Germans know where you are, all is lost.
Readers who sip happily over the paper should take a good look at themselves. They are not patriots, but victims. They have been conned by the most pervasive and sustained marketing campaign known to Britain since the invention of the wheel. Tea, and its derivate derivatives ‘infusions’, is not sophisticated or clever. It has been marketed as a drink for apes. Its medicinal benefits are negligent at best. It has neither the oomph of coffee nor the kick of scotch. It alienates the unworthy. It will get you hooked on caffeine, little by little, but never give you utter satisfaction.
Although I do hear it’s good with chocolate digestives.