Thursday, 27 September 2007
What does it take to get a decent cup of tea around here? Three weeks in this country (three weeks today, in fact) and so far I've been sluicing an underwhelming gray beverage down my throat. Not that I blame anyone other than myself. I fall into a stupor when confronting the tea aisle in a British grocery store. So many different brands to choose from! So why have I always chosen so poorly?
We were occasional tea drinkers back home in the States, preferring--like most of our countrymen--the bitter tang of the coffee bean to the sublime kiss of the tea leaf. The house we're renting in Oxford is not equipped with a proper coffee maker. There is a French press. That primitive contraption undoubtedly has a smaller carbon footprint than the Krups drip-filter machine we have back home but there's something fussy and fey about it. And that name, "French press": It sounds like some kinky sex act you'd get in Pigalle.
But we shouldn't be drinking coffee anyway. We're in England, the Land of the Cuppa, that obligatory goblet of multi-purpose liquid over which Britons relax, dish, kvetch, commiserate and ruminate. And while British coffee-making technology may be sorely lacking, the British excel at the science of instantaneous water heating. Every home in the United Kingdom is equipped with an electric kettle (below, right) that can turn cold tap water into superheated steam in about 8.5 seconds. Frightening, really.
The first tea we bought was something called Sainsbury's Fairtrade Tea. Drinking it--imagine warm water with just a hint of grass clippings--I was reminded that whenever I let my conscience be my guide ("Fair trade? Well that'll be better for the environment") I'm disappointed. Clear cut the forests, I say, if it means a tasty cup of tea.
Next we tried Twinings Classics Traditional English Tea. It was better-- Classics and Traditional!-- but it wasn't the transporting experience I was hoping for. What do I want in a tea? I guess I want something dense and chewy, the kind of tea you can stand a spoon up in. We've been told that we need to try PG Tips. People call it "builder's tea," the sort of strong tea that the lower classes supposedly prefer.
Tea has been in the news here. I read a story yesterday in The Times about how the United Kingdom Tea Council got its knuckles rapped for exaggerating the health benefits of tea in a series of ads. Guess what: Drinking four cups of tea a day isn't really as good for you as eating five servings of fruits and vegetables, as one ad may have suggested.
The Advertising Standards Authority's full report is sort of fun to read, if a little dense (and chewy?). The UK Tea Council provided all sorts of studies to supports its health claims--"antioxidant" this and "flavonoid" that--but the ad police pointed out that two of the studies were funded by the tea barons. One study even said "the quality of the studies now available is insufficient to draw firm conclusions."
I think it would be fun to work at the Advertising Standards Authority, debunking outrageous and misleading claims. The ASA released nine other reports yesterday, smacking everyone from the Body Shop (the effects of moisturizer are superficial, not physiological) to a home furnishings store whose television commercial showed a wife slapping her husband. "[We] considered," wrote the authority, "that the woman's action in [the ad], of slapping her husband twice as punishment for leaving the toilet seat up, gave the impression that aggression and violence enabled people in everyday life to get their own way."
And of course that isn't true. Aggression and violence never solved anything. But if I don't get a decent cup of tea soon, I won't be responsible for my actions.