Like many people my insides were forced to convulse this week by an American guide to brewing British Tea. Repeated below for your horror.
Now you expect ol’ grumpy Southern Oatcake to go on a 15 paragraph monologue on how this is the latest reason to escape from American cultural oppression. But no! This monologue will lay in to all the self-proclaimed big tea fans I know, including most of my extended family, many former colleagues and a mix of present and former friends.
In their defense they all used a kettle, so while they are wrong in many of their habits, they are not quite immoral.
The main problems for most people result from the volume of their consumption. If you are chugging through 8 cups a day then it’s not economical to get the good stuff, so it’s some variant of English Breakfast all round. People who find this to be the “tastiest tea” tend to be zealots who have never tried anything else. Further sectarian arguments break out over consumption or non-consumption of Yorkshire Tea. Usually on whether or not you should doing your patriotic Doncastral duty to the sticker, while ignoring the fact that it’s on a box of the cheap stuff picked by people on the poverty line in India. If you are still not convinced that Yorkshire Tea is a bizarre concept think about Irish Tea. Where can we begin to find meaning in that name?
To aid with voracious overconsumption tea bags were invented- no more cleaning strainers, just run the tea spoon under the cold tap for 2 seconds after using. An under-appreciated fact is that most tea bags, especially ones from the cheaper brands, contain polypropylene. A single use plastic tea bag releases on average 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles per cup! Which is bad for you and bad for the fishies when you throw away what you finally admit to being undrinkable swill after you pass the half way line. And why is it undrinkable swill? I’m glad I asked myself.
Part of the resason is that in many areas of the UK the water contains considerable amounts of calcium carbonate which builds up as lime scale in your kettle over multiple uses. Being unwilling to perform the required twice-monthly citric acid kettle clean (and being unable to go for several hours without tea making facilities, even at night), you get an added lime crunch in every cup!
Things are no better when it comes to the most commonly used brewing processes. People assume if it looks brown then it’s job done. That is because people refuse to take the time to understand what they are drinking. The point of brewing tea is to infuse water with flavours from the tea leaves. The water must be boiling to extract those flavours quickly- you can cold brew, but it takes 6+ hours and you reduce the variety of compounds you can extract from the leaves. One should take time to experiment with preferred brewing times for each variety of tea- some always like it stronger than others. But it must brew. Once extraction is completed according to personal taste the bag or strainer should be quickly removed, NOT squished against the side of the cup. I have even witnessed my own brother “lightning brew” PG Tips by stirring a tea bag fanatically for 20 seconds before a savage spoon press to really blacken it up. I am in awe of biology that such similar sets of genes can produce such wildly varying results.
If you squeeze or “lightning brew” you do not extract the intended proportion of flavour giving compounds from the leaves, and it is guaranteed that it will taste much worse than intended. Since I am more chilled out these days, I would be willing to permit a single stir prior to bag or strainer removal to ensure an even concentration of extracted compounds throughout the cup. Although ideally this would be done with the bag out.
But! People tell me. I like the strong taste of “builders tea” and I always have. About which I have two points. First of all, let us not disparage the fine profession of building. They created the world we see around us. Second is that everyone who brews tea this way does not like the taste of the tea they brew. I am brave enough to admit it- it taste like burnt mud with a chaser of sand paper. Most people get around this by filling their tea with milk and sugar. Sugar is used to make bad things taste nicer. It’s why we eat Ben and Jerrys instead of frozen cream. While this is clear evidence that these people do not like their creation, at least there is a logic to adding sugar. The splash of milk on the other hand- what the fuck is that doing in there? And why am I the absurdist when I refrain from changing up my drinks with a squirt from the cow’s tit?
I am loath to blame the wrongs and idiosyncrasies of the world on a shadowy cartel of large industries. But what is responsible for the splash of milk in tea if not the adverts from the Big Cow industry? It would feel unusual to turn up to anti-cattle farming protests with the environmentalists to make the case for the correct consumption of tea. But you’ve got to take what allies you can get when everyone you know refuses to take the red pill. Or, more reasonably, a delightful cup of Earl Grey, brewed from loose leaves for 3 minutes.
Which brings me on to the real point of this article, my brand new invention.
The milkers did put one idea in my head- it is unlikely that tea has been perfected already and it may be that an additive could widen its appeal. One that can turn tea in refreshing pick-me-up after a long day of queuing to make coffee in a tiny work kitchen filled with people violently mashing up tea bags with their preciously guarded tea spoons. One that adds subtly to its flavour instead of hiding it. And from these thoughts was Earl G born. Try it using the simple instructions below.
Collect for yourselves the following ingredients:
- Earl Grey Tea
- Lemon gin
- Ice cubes
- Fancy looking glass
Then follow these simple instructions.
- BREW Earl Grey for 3 minutes. This will be difficult, but refrain from stirring. Remove the tea bag or strainer with a minimum of fuss. Open the fridge but resist the allure of that gallon bottle whole milk and put the cup of Earl Grey in the fridge.
- Wait until it is cold.
- Take your fancy looking glass and throw in some ice cubes.
- Add a double shot of lemon gin.
- Add the cold, perfectly brewed Earl Grey.
It’s perfectly tasty without sugar. Although I suppose you could add some if you would prefer a Turbo-Lipton.