Bitesize Episode 77 - The British Brew: A Journey Through the Culture of Tea Drinking

From royal courts to kitchen tables, join Charlie as he follows the trail of tea weaving its way into the fabric of British life, shaping customs and traditions along the way.
Apr 11 / Charlie Baxter

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What's this episode about?

From royal courts to kitchen tables, join Charlie as he follows the trail of tea weaving its way into the fabric of British life, shaping customs and traditions along the way.
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Transcript of Bitesize Ep 77 - Transcript

Charlie:
Hello you. My beloved listener? I, um, I'm feeling a deep connection to you today as I record this, because I just read an incredibly heartwarming email from a listener that made me feel like I'm not just recording these episodes and sending them out into the ether without anyone on the other side. So thank you ever so much for choosing to listen to this show. The world is jam-packed with wonderful things to listen to, and so I take your listenership seriously and deeply, deeply respect it. Um, right. I'll try to pull myself together to give you what you came here for, which was some good old British culture and British English and oh boy, do we have a culturally rich one for you today. Um, I'm over three years into making these episodes, and I still haven't actually dedicated an episode to teaching you about British people and their tea-drinking traditions. So here we are. At long last, you could say I've been brewing it in the pot for all this time, so I imagine it will be insanely overpowering. The tannins will be out of control on your tongue, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, then that's okay. I've got you covered. We're going to go through the basics; a short history, societal norms around the beverage, the etiquette one might want to adopt when drinking tea in the UK, the place tea has in a British person's identity, and much more.

Charlie:
So stick around and for heaven's sake, get that kettle on. As we get into this episode all about the British and their tea drinking habits. So where to start? Well, I think it is only right to go back to when Tea was introduced to British people. But don't worry, this won't be oozing with history. I'll keep it light or milky. Sorry, I can already feel a lot of crap tea puns and weird metaphors are going to be squeezed into this one. I even feel like I just used the word squeeze deliberately there. So sorry in advance. Um, actually, very quickly, I want to find out when historians believe Tea came about and where from. I would imagine Eastern Asia thousands of years ago. Let's have a look. Okay, so it says tea is believed to have been discovered in China as far back as 2737 BC. So that's not far off. 5000 ish years ago, right? 4000 something, but nearly 5000. Um. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea when leaves from a wild tree blew into his pot of boiling water. Hahaha. Um. He found the brew to have a pleasant taste and invigorating effect. Over the millennia, Tea became an integral part of Chinese culture and spread throughout Asia. You know what? I can totally see that happening. You know, you're boiling some water out in the wilderness and a gust of wind comes out of nowhere.

Charlie:
You look down and oh, for sake, that's my boiling water. Ah, I can't get out. The water is boiling and it's gone to the bottom of my cup already. Ah! It took me ages to boil that I don't have an electric kettle yet. I might as well drink it. What's the worst that could happen? Oh, that's a bit of all right. End scene. And Tea was born! Beautiful acting there. Yeah I can, I can, I can see that I know it's a legend but I buy into it. So okay. Over the next few thousand years, the East and West connect and they started trading all sorts of things. I consumed a fascinating book once. I just said consumed there because most people would say read, but I listen to mine on audible. But sometimes I don't like to say listen because it sounds lazy. It doesn't sound very educated. So I've found myself using these different verbs to vaguely describe how I got the knowledge from a book. If you're in the same boat as me, you could say I consumed, you know, I consumed a fascinating book once, or I went through I went through a fascinating book once I learned, I learned from a fascinating book once, blah, blah, blah. Or I found I found a fascinating book once and it told me this. It told me that, yeah.

Charlie:
So there you go. There's quite a few ways that you can get around it if you're lazy like me. And you listen, I say lazy and it is lazy, but it's also very time efficient, as is listening to this podcast, unless the person that you're listening to is just stating verbs that you could use to avoid, you get where I'm going with this. Okay, so I, um, listened to a fascinating book once called The Silk Road. You know what? I actually read it. Goodness me. One should think that I would edit this out, but I'm not going to. So I read this book called The Silk Road, which references this trading route between the east and the west. And while I did promise you I wouldn't give you too many unnecessary facts, I think it's interesting to mention that the West was obsessed with how the East produced and wore silk. They couldn't work out how to make this insanely smooth and silky cloth. And so the East traded this fabric with the West for a long time, and it was like this secret that they kept from them. So royalty in the West were like, ah, this silk is lovely. Let's get a good trading route going with the east. And after that came many, many more things that were traded back and forth. And it may have been that silk wasn't the first, but it was one of the big ones that the West were obsessed with.

Charlie:
So yeah, trade goes back and forth over the last few thousand years, but tea was apparently not one of them, because it wasn't until a lot later, in the early 1600s, that the first recorded shipment of tea came to the UK in 1603, and it was the Portuguese and Dutch that brought it to the British Isles. So perhaps Brits should be thankful to these nations every time we dunk a teabag in some boiling water to this day. But as you can imagine, tea was a real luxury and the aristocracy went mad for it before it trickled down to the other social classes. Now, I won't go deeper into the history of tea and how it shaped the modern world politically and socially. Because, let's face it, you're probably here to learn how to sip your brew like a true Brit. But I will say it's absolutely fascinating to acknowledge that this humble leaf has been at the heart of revolutions, wars and monumental shifts in global trade patterns. From the Boston Tea Party, which became a catalyst for the American Revolution, to the Opium Wars that opened China up to the West. Tea has been more than just a beverage. It's been a potent brew, stirring the pot of history, influencing international relations and even helping to shape the borders of nations.

Charlie:
And in a way, all of that shows how much the Brits love their tea. Because we really went all out to try and keep consuming this very drink. And I am simplifying history somewhat, but we essentially drank ourselves into debt with the East for drinking so much bloody tea. I think it's true to say that we were running out of silver because of tea, because we were trading it with the East for silver, and then eventually we were like, oh God, we've used all our silver and we still want more tea. So with that said, it's obvious that, um, it wasn't just the royal members glugging gallons upon gallons a day. The other social classes got wind of it and ended up bloody loving it. And by the 19th century, tea had become ingrained in British daily life, symbolising British identity and domesticity. Gosh. Domesticity. That's another tongue-twister. Domesticity. Domesticity, as in life at home, taking care of your house and family. So it played a key role in social rituals, from afternoon tea to the tea break becoming a staple of British culture. And maybe, just maybe, this is part of the reason we have a stereotype of having bad teeth. Because tea wasn't all we were consuming. It wasn't long before sugar got in the mix, and Brits essentially became addicted to tea and sugar. And this, shamefully, directly relates to the transatlantic slave trade, as enslaved Africans were forced to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean under brutal conditions.

Charlie:
And this was because everyone in Europe, and particularly Great Britain, just couldn't get enough of tea and sugar. Okay, yes, the royals were keen to colonise and grow the empire beyond this, but this was a huge factor in why the British Empire became so big. And although I'll never be able to prove it, I wonder if there is a link between the stereotype of British people having bad teeth and the high consumption of tea with sugar, because from what I've read, the tea can actually improve your dental hygiene, but the sugar counteracts that. It essentially removes that goodness that tea can provide your teeth. So, um, yeah, I reckon that might be something to do with it. I should, uh, set the record straight, though. Our dental hygiene has increased over the last couple of decades, and we're moving away from that stereotype. Um, I think in America, I've discussed this before with Sharna, who's the host of the American English Podcast, but we talked about how in a typical class in America, 90% of the children will have braces at some point in their childhood. Whereas in when I was growing up in the 90s and noughties, I'd say 10% had braces, maybe 15-20, but no more than 20. So yes, there was a huge discrepancy. I would imagine there's less of an extreme difference in the children growing up right now in the UK, but we'll leave it there.

Charlie:
So, um, let's go back to the Victorian era. So in this period, tea had become ingrained in British daily life across all classes. The development of the afternoon tea tradition by the Duchess of Bedford, that's where Harry lives, in the 1840s, epitomised tea's status among the upper classes. And while the working classes embraced tea breaks during the Industrial Revolution and this was encouraged, this tea break amongst the working classes was encouraged when employers recognised that tea breaks, improved worker productivity, and tea became a fundamental part of the working class diet, often enjoyed with meals to sustain energy levels. And then if we go on a bit further into the relationship the Brits had with tea during the World wars, we can see an even stronger bond formed between said liquid and culture, as the drink became a symbol of British resilience during a specific year, the Blitz of World War two. Yeah, there was a period when the UK was subjected to a sustained bombing campaign by Nazi Germany, known as the Blitz. From September 1940 to May 1941, cities across the UK were targeted, with London receiving a significant portion of the attacks, and amidst the devastation, the British government and citizens turned to tea as a symbol of normalcy, comfort and British stoicism. In fact, the government recognised the importance of tea as a morale booster and made considerable efforts to ensure its continued availability.

Charlie:
And apparently tea was barely rationed in comparison to other consumables during the war. Obviously it was still rationed, but nowhere near as much as other consumables, because the government went to great lengths to maintain a steady supply, understanding that tea was crucial for the population's morale. In fact, I found one article saying one estimate is that the largest government purchases in 1942 were, in order of weight: bullets, tea, artillery shells, bombs and then explosives. So they bought more tea than artillery shells, bombs and explosives in wartime. And tea is the lightest of them all, isn't it? Am I being thick there? No, I don't, I don't think I am. If it's lighter and you get more of it in weight, then you've got a hell of a lot of tea there. I also read no one example captures how deeply tea drinking was embedded into the fabric of British everyday life than the decision of the government in 1942 to buy up every available pound of tea from every country in the world, except Japan. Mental. And there are stories from the Blitz that recount how people would brew tea amidst the ruins immediately after an air raid, using whatever means they could find to boil water. Um, I'm imagining fire wardens, rescue workers and civilians taking a moment to drink tea amid the devastation.

Charlie:
And and this image became a symbol of British resilience and defiance. Still able to have a cup of bloody tea in this chaos. And the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations set up mobile tea caravans and canteens to serve tea to those affected by the bombings and to emergency workers. So imagine these tea stations providing not just a hot drink, but a sense of, um, community and comfort and connection to those who had lost their homes or even loved ones all working tirelessly during the air raids. Tea brought them back to normalcy. So this period solidified tea's status as a cultural icon in Britain, representing not just a beverage but a ritual of comfort, stability and unity in the face of adversity. And I also read that after the Second World War, the UK was actually really struggling in terms of trade being geographically not connected to mainland Europe, it was neglected even more so, and it took a decade or two to bounce back in terms of trade. And during that period tea was hard to come by. And so I imagine those, um, tea guzzlers in the UK would talk endlessly about having it back in their life in abundance and oh my God, I think I've just realised something. My mum. My mother's tea drinking behaviours relate to these times. Because she was. She wasn't born in the 40s or 50s.

Charlie:
She'd probably like me to confirm that she was born in the 60s. She was born. No, she was actually 59. Yeah. So she was 50. But still her mother certainly went through this, this time without enough tea in the cupboard. And so my grandmother used to always, always share one tea bag among two, maybe three cups of tea. So she instilled this fear of running out of tea in my mother. And yeah, even to this day, if my mum makes two cups of tea or more, she will try to use one bag across as many cups of tea as possible. Unless I spot this and say, don't be so silly, you're not going to run out of tea, mother. You can afford to use one bag per cup. Go on, treat yourself. And although I've not really talked about this to anyone, really, um, it could just be a generational thing. But I wonder if this is more because the UK was disconnected from trade for longer, and so it may have bled into my parents generations. But my mother always has this mindset of never overindulging, always rationing. Essentially, like when we would go shopping, me, my two sisters and my mother at the end of going to town, getting some things, we would plead her to take us to McDonald's and if she ever did, we would all share the burger. Can't believe we did that.

Charlie:
Maybe we had like two burgers between four people. But yeah, we certainly weren't allowed a whole burger each. I mean, yeah, as a kid, maybe a whole burger is too much, but yeah, back to tea. So, um, my mother's rationale for rationed resources brings us to the modern day, where tea still holds a cherished place in British hearts and homes. But how we drink tea today and the rituals that surround it have their own set of etiquettes, preferences and and trends that might surprise you. So let's steep ourselves in the world of contemporary British tea culture. First off, I'd like to ask you to think what age do you think British people start to drink tea? Hmm? Would you guess 15 years old, maybe 16? Well, I've led you up a dark alley there. It's often as young as 5 or 6 years old, and one of my nephews had his first cup before he could even walk. And he loves it. He absolutely loves a cup of tea. I'm not sure how healthy that is. I personally didn't start drinking tea until I was 12 or 13, but still, I never really got into it. I, um, I started to become deeply obsessed with coffee after graduating, so that was around 22, 23 years old. And I also love herbal teas, although I only really like one which is lemon and ginger with a bit of honey.

Charlie:
Um, especially on a winter's day. I've actually just had one right now. It's lovely. Oh yeah. Although, somebody said the other day that they only have it when they're feeling sick. They're like, don't you feel sick when you're drinking that which, um, is just their personal association. So no, no, I don't feel ill, I feel healthy, I feel warmed, I feel loved. That's what a cup of tea does. Proper cup of tea makes you feel loved. Stacey said something funny the other day. What did she say? She said, I absolutely love it when I get a huge gulp of tea in my mouth. She said I don't like just a little sip. I like a huge gulp of English breakfast tea. So yeah, the most common tea in England - English breakfast tea. And it's clearly consumed by a wide variety of ages here. But now let's talk about some of the mistakes even savvy travellers can make when it comes to British tea traditions. For starters, thinking that English breakfast tea is confined to morning hours is a bit like believing you can only eat pancakes on Pancake Day, um an English breakfast tea is an all-day affair in the UK. I mean, as the day progresses, we might lean towards herbal or green teas, especially in the evening, but many drink a cup of very caffeinated English breakfast tea just before bed or even during the middle of the night if they can't sleep.

Charlie:
Illogical, but there you go. And I thought I should say this about when to have a tea, because I remember when I went to Italy, Venice, in fact, I was with an Italian and I ordered a cappuccino after my lunch, and she looked at it and just did the most classic Italian sort of 'tut' and disapproving shake of the head. Um, she was like, no, no, no, no. We drink espresso after our lunch, and it does make sense to me now, like it's a lot of milk. And I had just had an ice cream. So to clarify, English breakfast tea, not just for breakfast. And now let's talk brands briefly because there's a social class labelled to each brand, really. Um, we've got some speciality and premium brands called Fortnum and Mason, Harrods tea and it's not such a speciality, but Twinings is quite premium and they have a range of herbal teas and speciality blends as well. But they have an English breakfast tea, as do PG tips, Tetley, Yorkshire Tea and Typhoo. All of those that I've just mentioned, I would say they are pretty standard tea that most people will stock in their cupboards. Let's now go on to talk about food pairings briefly. Now, this isn't like a wine where you really need to know the flavours of the grape to pair perfectly with a dish.

Charlie:
It's just common sense for a British person to not really consume tea with a spicy meal. We will very often have it with a full English breakfast. That comes with an English breakfast tea, especially in a pub. Right? Um, but yeah, if you go spicier, like, um, a more like an Indian or a Thai or any kind of curry, I would really struggle to have a cup of tea with that. So yeah, I would suggest not doing that because the delicate flavours of tea are best enjoyed with lighter foods or traditional tea-time treats like scones and sandwiches, or maybe a piece of toast with some jam. Now let's let's talk about the way in which we make a tea, because there are a few blunders worth noting to save yourself from a tea faux pas. So the order in which one should do it is you boil the kettle, you get your mug out. If you're doing mugs, teapots is a different thing. Usually nowadays we don't really bother with teapots unless we're having, you know, four or more people and we're going to sit outside or we're going to sit away from the kitchen. We'll tend to normally do cups of tea. So you boil your kettle, you don't put your tea bag in your cup yet you wait for it to boil. You put a little bit of water in maybe a quarter of water in the cup.

Charlie:
You swirl it around to raise the cup's temperature. I think this is called warming the pot. Have you warmed the pot, old boy? Then emptying it, then putting the tea bag in, putting the hot water in over it, bringing it up to about three-quarters full to leave room for the milk and you just leave it there, let it brew for 3 to 5 minutes. Most British people will do about 30 to 60s, but somebody who knows what they're doing will wait 3 to 5 minutes. And you should never squeeze the tea bag with the spoon. This caused my father-in-law to wince at me when I squeezed it, because it releases too many tannins, which really affect the taste of the tea, and it creates a sort of furry, dry aftertaste in your mouth after you've sipped it. So to reduce the likelihood of releasing too many tannins, you do not squeeze the tea bag. You wait for the 3 to 5 minute window, then you lift the tea bag out, put it in the bin or wherever. Add as much milk as you want and then sugar if you want that. And you also should apparently not stir the teaspoon in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion. You should do it 12 to 6 motion and not touch the sides of the tea cup. This is ridiculously specific and it relates to the culture of not making noise during the time of having tea.

Charlie:
Now most of my friends and family would do the stirring either way and clink the spoon against the teacup. But if you want to do it properly, apparently a 12 to 6 motion without touching the edges, I challenge you. And if you didn't know when somebody says two sugars, please, that means two times a teaspoon amount of sugar, not a tablespoon. We're not that mental. People are also fussy about whether it's brown or white sugar. When I was little, I used to think brown sugar was for weirdos. Now I only have brown sugar in my household, so whenever my niece and nephews come over, I'm slightly aware that I look like a weirdo to them. Now, I mentioned the fact that you pour the milk after the brewing period, and this is up for debate, but I would like to tell you an interesting story that it used to separate the classes because the upper class used to have more expensive porcelain cups, and that meant that it could handle the extreme change in temperature going from room temperature to boiling-hot water, whereas the working classes porcelain would crack under this extreme change of temperature. So they would put the cold milk in first to help the boiling-hot water, not crack the cup on impact. Now, this is no longer the reason, but it's probably a hangover, a habit, a personal preference.

Charlie:
So don't assume one's class based on this behaviour. But it's an interesting origin. To end this episode, I'm going to go through some classic tea-related phrases for you to sound like a local. First one is fancy a cuppa fancy? A cuppa? Cuppa comes from the connected speech of a cup of something. A cup of tea becomes a cup of tea. You see the laziness in the connected speech between cup of tea to cuppa tea. So that's what cuppa means, a cup of something. Now, when we don't specify what we're meaning, cuppa always means an English breakfast tea and fancy is often used in British English, meaning would you like, do you want. Do you want a cup of English breakfast tea? Fancy a cuppa? Next one is quite interesting. Again with connected speech. Listen to how it flows. I'll do it slowly. First, shall I put the kettle on? In natural speed is - shall I put the kettle on? Shall I put the kettle on? I'm just going to leave that there. You understand what it means? It means. Shall I start making a tea? Shall I put the kettle on? But try to imitate that, if you can. Okay. Next one is how do you take it? How do you take it? How do you like your tea to be made? How do you take it? Do you like it with any milk? And do you take sugars? And the next one relates to how you could respond to that question.

Charlie:
So you could say, how do you take it? And the other person could say, oh, as it comes, as it comes, this means as you do it, I'm not bothered, really, I don't mind. You can make it how you want to make it. And usually that would be a bit of milk and maybe some sugar. But yeah, as it comes I'm not bothered. Another response if you do care, you could say oh, milk and two sugars please. How do you take it? Milk and two sugars please. Milk and two sugars please. So milk just a normal amount of milk and then two teaspoons of sugar. And then you could also say if you, if you like a bit more milk you could say, oh I like it milky I like it milky. Alrighty. We've come to the end of the episode. As we've heard, this tea culture in the UK is a tradition steeped in history yet constantly evolving, reflecting the tastes, trends and times of its people. But thank you for joining me on this journey through the fascinating world of British tea culture. Well done for getting to the end of this episode. Until next time, keep brewing, exploring and enjoying the simple pleasures of a good cup of tea. My name is Charlie. See you next time on the British English Podcast.

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Transcript of Bitesize Ep 77 - Transcript

Charlie:
Hello you. My beloved listener? I, um, I'm feeling a deep connection to you today as I record this, because I just read an incredibly heartwarming email from a listener that made me feel like I'm not just recording these episodes and sending them out into the ether without anyone on the other side. So thank you ever so much for choosing to listen to this show. The world is jam-packed with wonderful things to listen to, and so I take your listenership seriously and deeply, deeply respect it. Um, right. I'll try to pull myself together to give you what you came here for, which was some good old British culture and British English and oh boy, do we have a culturally rich one for you today. Um, I'm over three years into making these episodes, and I still haven't actually dedicated an episode to teaching you about British people and their tea-drinking traditions. So here we are. At long last, you could say I've been brewing it in the pot for all this time, so I imagine it will be insanely overpowering. The tannins will be out of control on your tongue, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, then that's okay. I've got you covered. We're going to go through the basics; a short history, societal norms around the beverage, the etiquette one might want to adopt when drinking tea in the UK, the place tea has in a British person's identity, and much more.

Charlie:
So stick around and for heaven's sake, get that kettle on. As we get into this episode all about the British and their tea drinking habits. So where to start? Well, I think it is only right to go back to when Tea was introduced to British people. But don't worry, this won't be oozing with history. I'll keep it light or milky. Sorry, I can already feel a lot of crap tea puns and weird metaphors are going to be squeezed into this one. I even feel like I just used the word squeeze deliberately there. So sorry in advance. Um, actually, very quickly, I want to find out when historians believe Tea came about and where from. I would imagine Eastern Asia thousands of years ago. Let's have a look. Okay, so it says tea is believed to have been discovered in China as far back as 2737 BC. So that's not far off. 5000 ish years ago, right? 4000 something, but nearly 5000. Um. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nong discovered tea when leaves from a wild tree blew into his pot of boiling water. Hahaha. Um. He found the brew to have a pleasant taste and invigorating effect. Over the millennia, Tea became an integral part of Chinese culture and spread throughout Asia. You know what? I can totally see that happening. You know, you're boiling some water out in the wilderness and a gust of wind comes out of nowhere.

Charlie:
You look down and oh, for sake, that's my boiling water. Ah, I can't get out. The water is boiling and it's gone to the bottom of my cup already. Ah! It took me ages to boil that I don't have an electric kettle yet. I might as well drink it. What's the worst that could happen? Oh, that's a bit of all right. End scene. And Tea was born! Beautiful acting there. Yeah I can, I can, I can see that I know it's a legend but I buy into it. So okay. Over the next few thousand years, the East and West connect and they started trading all sorts of things. I consumed a fascinating book once. I just said consumed there because most people would say read, but I listen to mine on audible. But sometimes I don't like to say listen because it sounds lazy. It doesn't sound very educated. So I've found myself using these different verbs to vaguely describe how I got the knowledge from a book. If you're in the same boat as me, you could say I consumed, you know, I consumed a fascinating book once, or I went through I went through a fascinating book once I learned, I learned from a fascinating book once, blah, blah, blah. Or I found I found a fascinating book once and it told me this. It told me that, yeah.

Charlie:
So there you go. There's quite a few ways that you can get around it if you're lazy like me. And you listen, I say lazy and it is lazy, but it's also very time efficient, as is listening to this podcast, unless the person that you're listening to is just stating verbs that you could use to avoid, you get where I'm going with this. Okay, so I, um, listened to a fascinating book once called The Silk Road. You know what? I actually read it. Goodness me. One should think that I would edit this out, but I'm not going to. So I read this book called The Silk Road, which references this trading route between the east and the west. And while I did promise you I wouldn't give you too many unnecessary facts, I think it's interesting to mention that the West was obsessed with how the East produced and wore silk. They couldn't work out how to make this insanely smooth and silky cloth. And so the East traded this fabric with the West for a long time, and it was like this secret that they kept from them. So royalty in the West were like, ah, this silk is lovely. Let's get a good trading route going with the east. And after that came many, many more things that were traded back and forth. And it may have been that silk wasn't the first, but it was one of the big ones that the West were obsessed with.

Charlie:
So yeah, trade goes back and forth over the last few thousand years, but tea was apparently not one of them, because it wasn't until a lot later, in the early 1600s, that the first recorded shipment of tea came to the UK in 1603, and it was the Portuguese and Dutch that brought it to the British Isles. So perhaps Brits should be thankful to these nations every time we dunk a teabag in some boiling water to this day. But as you can imagine, tea was a real luxury and the aristocracy went mad for it before it trickled down to the other social classes. Now, I won't go deeper into the history of tea and how it shaped the modern world politically and socially. Because, let's face it, you're probably here to learn how to sip your brew like a true Brit. But I will say it's absolutely fascinating to acknowledge that this humble leaf has been at the heart of revolutions, wars and monumental shifts in global trade patterns. From the Boston Tea Party, which became a catalyst for the American Revolution, to the Opium Wars that opened China up to the West. Tea has been more than just a beverage. It's been a potent brew, stirring the pot of history, influencing international relations and even helping to shape the borders of nations.

Charlie:
And in a way, all of that shows how much the Brits love their tea. Because we really went all out to try and keep consuming this very drink. And I am simplifying history somewhat, but we essentially drank ourselves into debt with the East for drinking so much bloody tea. I think it's true to say that we were running out of silver because of tea, because we were trading it with the East for silver, and then eventually we were like, oh God, we've used all our silver and we still want more tea. So with that said, it's obvious that, um, it wasn't just the royal members glugging gallons upon gallons a day. The other social classes got wind of it and ended up bloody loving it. And by the 19th century, tea had become ingrained in British daily life, symbolising British identity and domesticity. Gosh. Domesticity. That's another tongue-twister. Domesticity. Domesticity, as in life at home, taking care of your house and family. So it played a key role in social rituals, from afternoon tea to the tea break becoming a staple of British culture. And maybe, just maybe, this is part of the reason we have a stereotype of having bad teeth. Because tea wasn't all we were consuming. It wasn't long before sugar got in the mix, and Brits essentially became addicted to tea and sugar. And this, shamefully, directly relates to the transatlantic slave trade, as enslaved Africans were forced to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean under brutal conditions.

Charlie:
And this was because everyone in Europe, and particularly Great Britain, just couldn't get enough of tea and sugar. Okay, yes, the royals were keen to colonise and grow the empire beyond this, but this was a huge factor in why the British Empire became so big. And although I'll never be able to prove it, I wonder if there is a link between the stereotype of British people having bad teeth and the high consumption of tea with sugar, because from what I've read, the tea can actually improve your dental hygiene, but the sugar counteracts that. It essentially removes that goodness that tea can provide your teeth. So, um, yeah, I reckon that might be something to do with it. I should, uh, set the record straight, though. Our dental hygiene has increased over the last couple of decades, and we're moving away from that stereotype. Um, I think in America, I've discussed this before with Sharna, who's the host of the American English Podcast, but we talked about how in a typical class in America, 90% of the children will have braces at some point in their childhood. Whereas in when I was growing up in the 90s and noughties, I'd say 10% had braces, maybe 15-20, but no more than 20. So yes, there was a huge discrepancy. I would imagine there's less of an extreme difference in the children growing up right now in the UK, but we'll leave it there.

Charlie:
So, um, let's go back to the Victorian era. So in this period, tea had become ingrained in British daily life across all classes. The development of the afternoon tea tradition by the Duchess of Bedford, that's where Harry lives, in the 1840s, epitomised tea's status among the upper classes. And while the working classes embraced tea breaks during the Industrial Revolution and this was encouraged, this tea break amongst the working classes was encouraged when employers recognised that tea breaks, improved worker productivity, and tea became a fundamental part of the working class diet, often enjoyed with meals to sustain energy levels. And then if we go on a bit further into the relationship the Brits had with tea during the World wars, we can see an even stronger bond formed between said liquid and culture, as the drink became a symbol of British resilience during a specific year, the Blitz of World War two. Yeah, there was a period when the UK was subjected to a sustained bombing campaign by Nazi Germany, known as the Blitz. From September 1940 to May 1941, cities across the UK were targeted, with London receiving a significant portion of the attacks, and amidst the devastation, the British government and citizens turned to tea as a symbol of normalcy, comfort and British stoicism. In fact, the government recognised the importance of tea as a morale booster and made considerable efforts to ensure its continued availability.

Charlie:
And apparently tea was barely rationed in comparison to other consumables during the war. Obviously it was still rationed, but nowhere near as much as other consumables, because the government went to great lengths to maintain a steady supply, understanding that tea was crucial for the population's morale. In fact, I found one article saying one estimate is that the largest government purchases in 1942 were, in order of weight: bullets, tea, artillery shells, bombs and then explosives. So they bought more tea than artillery shells, bombs and explosives in wartime. And tea is the lightest of them all, isn't it? Am I being thick there? No, I don't, I don't think I am. If it's lighter and you get more of it in weight, then you've got a hell of a lot of tea there. I also read no one example captures how deeply tea drinking was embedded into the fabric of British everyday life than the decision of the government in 1942 to buy up every available pound of tea from every country in the world, except Japan. Mental. And there are stories from the Blitz that recount how people would brew tea amidst the ruins immediately after an air raid, using whatever means they could find to boil water. Um, I'm imagining fire wardens, rescue workers and civilians taking a moment to drink tea amid the devastation.

Charlie:
And and this image became a symbol of British resilience and defiance. Still able to have a cup of bloody tea in this chaos. And the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations set up mobile tea caravans and canteens to serve tea to those affected by the bombings and to emergency workers. So imagine these tea stations providing not just a hot drink, but a sense of, um, community and comfort and connection to those who had lost their homes or even loved ones all working tirelessly during the air raids. Tea brought them back to normalcy. So this period solidified tea's status as a cultural icon in Britain, representing not just a beverage but a ritual of comfort, stability and unity in the face of adversity. And I also read that after the Second World War, the UK was actually really struggling in terms of trade being geographically not connected to mainland Europe, it was neglected even more so, and it took a decade or two to bounce back in terms of trade. And during that period tea was hard to come by. And so I imagine those, um, tea guzzlers in the UK would talk endlessly about having it back in their life in abundance and oh my God, I think I've just realised something. My mum. My mother's tea drinking behaviours relate to these times. Because she was. She wasn't born in the 40s or 50s.

Charlie:
She'd probably like me to confirm that she was born in the 60s. She was born. No, she was actually 59. Yeah. So she was 50. But still her mother certainly went through this, this time without enough tea in the cupboard. And so my grandmother used to always, always share one tea bag among two, maybe three cups of tea. So she instilled this fear of running out of tea in my mother. And yeah, even to this day, if my mum makes two cups of tea or more, she will try to use one bag across as many cups of tea as possible. Unless I spot this and say, don't be so silly, you're not going to run out of tea, mother. You can afford to use one bag per cup. Go on, treat yourself. And although I've not really talked about this to anyone, really, um, it could just be a generational thing. But I wonder if this is more because the UK was disconnected from trade for longer, and so it may have bled into my parents generations. But my mother always has this mindset of never overindulging, always rationing. Essentially, like when we would go shopping, me, my two sisters and my mother at the end of going to town, getting some things, we would plead her to take us to McDonald's and if she ever did, we would all share the burger. Can't believe we did that.

Charlie:
Maybe we had like two burgers between four people. But yeah, we certainly weren't allowed a whole burger each. I mean, yeah, as a kid, maybe a whole burger is too much, but yeah, back to tea. So, um, my mother's rationale for rationed resources brings us to the modern day, where tea still holds a cherished place in British hearts and homes. But how we drink tea today and the rituals that surround it have their own set of etiquettes, preferences and and trends that might surprise you. So let's steep ourselves in the world of contemporary British tea culture. First off, I'd like to ask you to think what age do you think British people start to drink tea? Hmm? Would you guess 15 years old, maybe 16? Well, I've led you up a dark alley there. It's often as young as 5 or 6 years old, and one of my nephews had his first cup before he could even walk. And he loves it. He absolutely loves a cup of tea. I'm not sure how healthy that is. I personally didn't start drinking tea until I was 12 or 13, but still, I never really got into it. I, um, I started to become deeply obsessed with coffee after graduating, so that was around 22, 23 years old. And I also love herbal teas, although I only really like one which is lemon and ginger with a bit of honey.

Charlie:
Um, especially on a winter's day. I've actually just had one right now. It's lovely. Oh yeah. Although, somebody said the other day that they only have it when they're feeling sick. They're like, don't you feel sick when you're drinking that which, um, is just their personal association. So no, no, I don't feel ill, I feel healthy, I feel warmed, I feel loved. That's what a cup of tea does. Proper cup of tea makes you feel loved. Stacey said something funny the other day. What did she say? She said, I absolutely love it when I get a huge gulp of tea in my mouth. She said I don't like just a little sip. I like a huge gulp of English breakfast tea. So yeah, the most common tea in England - English breakfast tea. And it's clearly consumed by a wide variety of ages here. But now let's talk about some of the mistakes even savvy travellers can make when it comes to British tea traditions. For starters, thinking that English breakfast tea is confined to morning hours is a bit like believing you can only eat pancakes on Pancake Day, um an English breakfast tea is an all-day affair in the UK. I mean, as the day progresses, we might lean towards herbal or green teas, especially in the evening, but many drink a cup of very caffeinated English breakfast tea just before bed or even during the middle of the night if they can't sleep.

Charlie:
Illogical, but there you go. And I thought I should say this about when to have a tea, because I remember when I went to Italy, Venice, in fact, I was with an Italian and I ordered a cappuccino after my lunch, and she looked at it and just did the most classic Italian sort of 'tut' and disapproving shake of the head. Um, she was like, no, no, no, no. We drink espresso after our lunch, and it does make sense to me now, like it's a lot of milk. And I had just had an ice cream. So to clarify, English breakfast tea, not just for breakfast. And now let's talk brands briefly because there's a social class labelled to each brand, really. Um, we've got some speciality and premium brands called Fortnum and Mason, Harrods tea and it's not such a speciality, but Twinings is quite premium and they have a range of herbal teas and speciality blends as well. But they have an English breakfast tea, as do PG tips, Tetley, Yorkshire Tea and Typhoo. All of those that I've just mentioned, I would say they are pretty standard tea that most people will stock in their cupboards. Let's now go on to talk about food pairings briefly. Now, this isn't like a wine where you really need to know the flavours of the grape to pair perfectly with a dish.

Charlie:
It's just common sense for a British person to not really consume tea with a spicy meal. We will very often have it with a full English breakfast. That comes with an English breakfast tea, especially in a pub. Right? Um, but yeah, if you go spicier, like, um, a more like an Indian or a Thai or any kind of curry, I would really struggle to have a cup of tea with that. So yeah, I would suggest not doing that because the delicate flavours of tea are best enjoyed with lighter foods or traditional tea-time treats like scones and sandwiches, or maybe a piece of toast with some jam. Now let's let's talk about the way in which we make a tea, because there are a few blunders worth noting to save yourself from a tea faux pas. So the order in which one should do it is you boil the kettle, you get your mug out. If you're doing mugs, teapots is a different thing. Usually nowadays we don't really bother with teapots unless we're having, you know, four or more people and we're going to sit outside or we're going to sit away from the kitchen. We'll tend to normally do cups of tea. So you boil your kettle, you don't put your tea bag in your cup yet you wait for it to boil. You put a little bit of water in maybe a quarter of water in the cup.

Charlie:
You swirl it around to raise the cup's temperature. I think this is called warming the pot. Have you warmed the pot, old boy? Then emptying it, then putting the tea bag in, putting the hot water in over it, bringing it up to about three-quarters full to leave room for the milk and you just leave it there, let it brew for 3 to 5 minutes. Most British people will do about 30 to 60s, but somebody who knows what they're doing will wait 3 to 5 minutes. And you should never squeeze the tea bag with the spoon. This caused my father-in-law to wince at me when I squeezed it, because it releases too many tannins, which really affect the taste of the tea, and it creates a sort of furry, dry aftertaste in your mouth after you've sipped it. So to reduce the likelihood of releasing too many tannins, you do not squeeze the tea bag. You wait for the 3 to 5 minute window, then you lift the tea bag out, put it in the bin or wherever. Add as much milk as you want and then sugar if you want that. And you also should apparently not stir the teaspoon in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion. You should do it 12 to 6 motion and not touch the sides of the tea cup. This is ridiculously specific and it relates to the culture of not making noise during the time of having tea.

Charlie:
Now most of my friends and family would do the stirring either way and clink the spoon against the teacup. But if you want to do it properly, apparently a 12 to 6 motion without touching the edges, I challenge you. And if you didn't know when somebody says two sugars, please, that means two times a teaspoon amount of sugar, not a tablespoon. We're not that mental. People are also fussy about whether it's brown or white sugar. When I was little, I used to think brown sugar was for weirdos. Now I only have brown sugar in my household, so whenever my niece and nephews come over, I'm slightly aware that I look like a weirdo to them. Now, I mentioned the fact that you pour the milk after the brewing period, and this is up for debate, but I would like to tell you an interesting story that it used to separate the classes because the upper class used to have more expensive porcelain cups, and that meant that it could handle the extreme change in temperature going from room temperature to boiling-hot water, whereas the working classes porcelain would crack under this extreme change of temperature. So they would put the cold milk in first to help the boiling-hot water, not crack the cup on impact. Now, this is no longer the reason, but it's probably a hangover, a habit, a personal preference.

Charlie:
So don't assume one's class based on this behaviour. But it's an interesting origin. To end this episode, I'm going to go through some classic tea-related phrases for you to sound like a local. First one is fancy a cuppa fancy? A cuppa? Cuppa comes from the connected speech of a cup of something. A cup of tea becomes a cup of tea. You see the laziness in the connected speech between cup of tea to cuppa tea. So that's what cuppa means, a cup of something. Now, when we don't specify what we're meaning, cuppa always means an English breakfast tea and fancy is often used in British English, meaning would you like, do you want. Do you want a cup of English breakfast tea? Fancy a cuppa? Next one is quite interesting. Again with connected speech. Listen to how it flows. I'll do it slowly. First, shall I put the kettle on? In natural speed is - shall I put the kettle on? Shall I put the kettle on? I'm just going to leave that there. You understand what it means? It means. Shall I start making a tea? Shall I put the kettle on? But try to imitate that, if you can. Okay. Next one is how do you take it? How do you take it? How do you like your tea to be made? How do you take it? Do you like it with any milk? And do you take sugars? And the next one relates to how you could respond to that question.

Charlie:
So you could say, how do you take it? And the other person could say, oh, as it comes, as it comes, this means as you do it, I'm not bothered, really, I don't mind. You can make it how you want to make it. And usually that would be a bit of milk and maybe some sugar. But yeah, as it comes I'm not bothered. Another response if you do care, you could say oh, milk and two sugars please. How do you take it? Milk and two sugars please. Milk and two sugars please. So milk just a normal amount of milk and then two teaspoons of sugar. And then you could also say if you, if you like a bit more milk you could say, oh I like it milky I like it milky. Alrighty. We've come to the end of the episode. As we've heard, this tea culture in the UK is a tradition steeped in history yet constantly evolving, reflecting the tastes, trends and times of its people. But thank you for joining me on this journey through the fascinating world of British tea culture. Well done for getting to the end of this episode. Until next time, keep brewing, exploring and enjoying the simple pleasures of a good cup of tea. My name is Charlie. See you next time on the British English Podcast.

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