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About A Week: Tea Time

Where would Britain be without tea? Peter Hinchliffe ponders on a vital question.

Shock, horror! Young Britons are abandoning tea in favour of coffee and fizzy drinks.

The headline in the illustrious Times newspaper had me muttering into my after-breakfast cuppa.

You know the sort of thing that old codgers say. “What are we coming to? No wonder the Rover car firm went bust… Where would we have been in 1939-45 without tea?’’

It was tea that won the war. Tea that keeps the wheels of industry and commerce turning. Tea which marks Britain out as a very particular nation.

We’ve been drinking the stuff by the gallon for 350 years, and it’s served us well. An equable drink for an equable nation.

Think of the Cutty Sark, that fine fast sailing ship, racing across the Indian Ocean, bound for its island home, bringing fresh supplies of tea to quench a thirsting nation.

The Sark was launched into the River Clyde in 1869. Because of its extensive sails it was the fastest of the tea clippers. The thrusting vessel is now in dry dock at Greenwich. I have walked around it, slurping my appreciation of its sleek lines at every stride.

Think also of the novel My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of that prince of wordsmiths, Charles. She based her entertaining tale on her experiences as a reporter on a local newspaper.

A perfect title. Newspapers require huge quantities of paper and ink – but tea is the most important commodity in keeping the presses running.

When I was the most junior of the junior reporters on the Batley News, I did more than my share of brewing up. I readily accepted the chore. He or she who brews is the first to enjoy a steaming cup.

What kind of tea do I like? Assam, Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong, which has a taste so strong that you can almost bite into it…

I have tried them all. And all are acceptable when it comes to wetting the Hinchliffe whistle. And the Hinchliffe whistle is whistleless unless it is frequently and copiously wetted.

My favourite daily drink – one might almost say hourly drink – is Yorkshire tea, blended by Taylors of Harrogate, which mashes into a rich, strong flavour. The other day I tried an unfamiliar tea, thanks to Open Writing columnist, Barbara Durlacher, who writes the ever-entertaining column Jo’burg Days.

Barbara, splendid lass that she is, sent me some rooibos tea, made from a South African plant. Rooibos tea has been produced and sold for hundreds of years, but it has been drunk for thousands of years. It was the traditional beverage of the Khoi people from the Cederberg region of the Cape.

What does it taste like? Oh dear. I’m no wine and food writer. How do you translate a taste into words. Rooibos tea is…well, it’s a strong taste, sort of smoky. A comforting, welcoming wood-fire sort of taste.

And I like it.

What’s more, rooibos contains no harmful stimulants and is totally free of caffeine. Many claim that rooibos does you good. For years its merits have been sung. “It’s good for cancer prevention, it’s good for your skin, it’s good for babies with colic, it’s good for just about everything.’’

Maybe. But not for me an everyday tea. More of a special occasion tea.

I have just re-read the Times story. The threat to the nation’s well-being is not as desperate as the headline suggested. OK, so younger folk are trying other drinks – Cokes and cappuccinos – but 80 per cent of Brits are still regular tea drinkers.

Those youngsters who experiment with fancy coffee combinations will hopefully one day recognise that nothing beats a well-brewed cuppa!

That’s enough about tea for one day. This writing business leaves you feeling parched. I’m going to put the kettle on…


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