The British are very serious about their centuries-old tradition of tea drinking, known as “tea time”, despite the fact that the temperate UK does not have any tea plantations.
Introduced to the UK in 1662 by Catherine of Braganza, the young wife of Charles II who hailed from Portugal, tea became a life-style trend among aristocrats. Today, having a “cuppa” is a national pastime.
Stephen Twining, the 10th generation of the Twining family that produces an assortment of teas and a tea expert himself, said that tea time was important in the UK as it allowed people to connect with each other.
“Nowadays, people are too busy with their gadgets and work that they forget the importance of having a relationship with other people. Tea time can be a good reminder,” he said.
He said that one’s tea drinking was a personal choice, and that everyone could enjoy tea anytime, anywhere and in his/her own way.
“Drinking between three and five cups of tea every day is good for your health. I drink between 10 and 15 cups every day, though, and I feel alright,” he said.
During the recent launch of Twinings Royal Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Blend, Twining imparted several tips on tea brewing. He said that the boiled water to brew the tea should be 100 degrees Celsius.
“For green tea, however, you should wait for five minutes for the water to cool down a bit because green tea can taste too bitter when it is brewed with very hot water,” he said.
He suggested that when people wanted to brew teabags, they should put six teabags into one teapot. If the tea is in the form of tea leaves, people should put 4.5 teaspoons of tea leaves.
“After you put the tea into the pot, you can have polite conversation for three-five minutes. Just let the tea dissolve into the water. Do not jiggle the teabags,” he warned.
A glance across the room found a woman at another table jiggling teabags. With a guilty look, she put down the teabags and hid her hands.
While jiggling was off limits, Twining gave people the go-ahead to stir the tea with a teaspoon. He explained that the jiggling could make the tea too dark and then it would be difficult to dilute the tea.
“If you want to make ice tea, you can double the number of teabags, because you will add ice cubes, which will dilute the tea,” he said.
He added that there were three rules on tea drinking.
“First, tea is best enjoyed as it is. Second, putting sugar into your tea is barbaric. Third, if you think the second rule is wrong, you should go back to the first rule,” he said.
In what could be described as a tempest in a teapot, the whole room gasped in horror: Indonesians, of course, are known for heaping sugar into tea, coffee and other beverages.
But what about his previous statement that tea is personal and everyone can brew it as they like it? Twining grudgingly relented to the idea, but then told the story of his cousin who always added two cubes of sugar to his tea.
Twining hatched a plan to undermine his cousin’s habit. He came home before his cousin, brewed the tea and put a teaspoon next to his relative’s tea cup as if he had put the sugar cubes into the tea.
The cousin drank the tea with no complaints. A few days later, the cousin complimented Twining, saying he was learning to brew it better.
“The tea tastes better because there is no sugar in it,” Twining said.
During tea time, cookies and cakes are also served. Twining said that different teas were suitable for different foods, and gave several tips for pairings.
“English Breakfast is good for savory foods, because for breakfast we usually have sausage and eggs and this tea is a good match. Darjeeling is good for white meat, such as turkey and seafood, while Earl Grey goes well with sweet food,” he said.
— Courtesy of Twinings