If given a choice, most often, I chose tea over coffee. It’s a habit I got from my grandmother, who drank tea as her only beverage. You might say she was a “teetotaler.” Like the British writer Samuel Johnson—alleged to be a 40-cup-a-day guy—she “swallowed her tea in oceans.” Apparently, it did her no harm; she lived to be 93.
Less Tea Tippling
But not everybody is downing tea like they used to do. In England, traditional black tea consumption has been dropping for decades. Today the Irish and Turks outdo the English is per capita tea drinking. A British food writer told the New York Times that tea sippers are a “graying bunch” and that young people had little interest in the typical brew.
The fading popularity of tea, he said, comes from fast-paced living, a generation gap, and a stodgy image. Still, the average Britisher imbibes 1200 cups a year. Much of that is fruit, herbal, specialty, or green teas rather than the long-revered black varieties.
While the introduction of coffee shops has taken its toll, other cultural factors have played a part in changing tea habits. Tea drinking was always linked to biscuit/cake consumption and that has lessened in recent years among health conscious Brits.
Others have noted yet another reason for tea abandonment: quality. Today there’s no time to wait for a proper cup of tea to brew. Too often mesh bags containing “fines” (the crumbs of tea leaves) are used for a cheap, quick cup both in homes and restaurants. The brew is inferior to that made by steeping whole tea leaves in hot water for 5 minutes. Without the flavor, tea drinkers are losing interest.
Meanwhile, Across the Atlantic . . .
Here in the U.S. the sale of tea has quintupled. Again, it’s the herbals that lead the charge. I keep a few black varieties on hand for traditionalists, but most of my teas are herbal blends. I’ve come to a compromise in the bag vs. pot struggle, too. I use Forte, that comes in the triangle-shaped bags with the cute leaf attached to the string. Yes, they’re expensive, but since the bags contain whole leaves, they can be re-used several times.
My daughter, who lived in England for a year, remains a purist. She brews loose tea—usually a green variety—in a porcelain pot. When we’re at the farm, she shares it with me. She claims green tea is better for us, so I drink that, though I’d prefer chamomile. It may be my age.
I recall one of my favorite childhood books was about Uncle Wiggley, the long-eared rabbit. He had a touch of rheumatism, that Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy alleviated by bring him pots of chamomile tea. If if worked for Uncle Wiggley, it might work for me, too.
I’m thinking that between the influences of my grandmother, Uncle Wiggley, and my daughter—in one way or another—my hot tea drinking it here to stay.