So, one of the peculiar things I notice about the Brits is the copious amount of liquid they drink. Be it beer, coffee or tea. Especially tea. The only Nigerian I know who drinks tea like a Brit is my Mom. But she lived here for 10 years……. go figure.
I thought the tea habit arose because of the cold weather…....keeping warm and all, but on doing a little research I find that it is in fact an imported culture. The first batch of tea arrived in England along with the Dutch merchant ships in the year 1652. By 1672, tea drinking had become a trend with the English royalty under the influence of tea loving Catherine Braganza the Portuguese princess who married Charles II. The fashion soon spread to the middle and lower classes.
For example, the ordinary people in 18th century England had access to tea at the factories where they worked, because it had been noted that tea helped the workers to concentrate, therefore employers offered their workforce tea breaks at steady intervals.
Sadly, despite its popularity, "frequent tea-drinking was beyond the means of the majority of British people” due to the heavy taxation of tea and its consequent high price.
That was then…Now everybody can and do drink tea. It’s probably one of the cheapest beverages available.
But…it seems there’s a class factor in the drinking of the ubiquitous tea.
Working-class people (mostly males) are said to drink especially with their cooked breakfast (bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, fried bread and toast) “industrial quantities of strong, brick-coloured, sweet, milky tea”, which is often PG Tips. In addition, putting the milk into the cup first or stirring the tea noisily or over-vigorously is also considered a lower-class habit.
The lower-middle or the middle-middle class people (stereo)typically drink “a paler, ‘posher’ version” of the working-class tea, and their brand of choice is Twining’s English Breakfast, whereas the upper-middle or upper class members resort to “weak, dishwater-coloured, unsweetened Earl Grey”.
The quantity of sugar put in the tea is also another direct class indicator. According to Kate Fox in her book Watching the English, “Taking sugar in your tea is regarded by many as an infallible lower-class indicator”. To put even one spoonful of sugar in your tea is somewhat suspect, more than one spoonful says that you are lower middle class at best, and more than two spoonfuls screams, that you definitely belong to the working class (do note all ye Prince Harry aspirants!!)
Apart from the class factors, tea plays a central role in almost all social situations in Britain. Whether to make awkward encounters less awkward, if your head hurts, at the beginning of business and club meetings, your husband just left you, in the morning when you wake up at the house of a total stranger and you seem to have little to talk about.. ….tea is all you need to right your world.
How do you like your tea/coffee/beverage??
Excerpts from Laura Johansson & Kate Fox