Every day is a battle of wills in our house between myself, a person wanting a cup of tea, and Anthony, someone who doesn't want to go and make me that tea. I usually emerge triumphant, but it doesn't make the process any less nail biting!
In celebration of today's victory, here are ten cool (hot?) facts about tea:
#10. Brits drink 165 million cups of tea a day.
That's 60.2 billion a year as a nation, or around 876 cups each - enough to fill two bathtubs. Tea consumption has actually fallen a lot over the last few decades; your average Brit drank 23 cups of tea a week in 1973, compared to just 8 today. Coffee still has a lot of catching up to do though - as a nation we're only drinking 70 million cups of coffee a day. (If the figures don't quite add up, blame the fact I pulled them from different studies!)
#9. But Turkey loves tea more.
In the UK we're consuming around 4.281 pounds of tea per person, per year. In Turkey that figure is 6.961 pounds. Morocco, Ireland, and Mauritania also consume more tea per head than the UK. Worldwide, tea is the second most consumed drink, after water.
#8. Salt and ...Sugar?
The most common way to drink tea in the UK is with milk and two [teaspoonfuls of sugar]. But in some places salted tea is the way to go. Mongolia is famed for its milky suutei tsai, and it is common to take tea with salt across South Asia.
#8. There are over 3,000 varieties of tea.
They come from the same basic type of plant, the Camellia Sinensis, and are divided into five basic categories: black, green, oolong, white, and puer. The vast majority of the tea consumed in the UK is black, meaning the leaves have been allowed to undergo full oxidation.
#7. During WW2 tea was rationed.
In 1938 the UK accounted for half of all imports of black tea. Given the difficulty of importing goods after the outbreak of war, tea went on the ration in July 1940 at 2 oz per adult, per week. Rationing continued after the war but the weekly allowance was increased to 2.5 oz until dock strikes in Calcutta and Colombo in 1947 brought it back down to 2 oz. There was another brief increase to 2.5 oz between December 1949 and June 1950, then it remained at 2 oz until it was finally taken off ration in Octber 1952.
#6. The teabag has been around since 1901.
Roberta C. Lawson and Mary Molaren of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, filed a US patent for a 'tea-leaf holder' made of an open-meshed woven cotton bag in 1901. It failed to take off and the tea bag's invention is usually claimed to be an accident - Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, was sending out tea samples in little silk bags. When customers started putting the bag straight in the pot, he realised he was on to something clever and switched to gauze bags. These, followed by paper bags, were in commercial production in the USA by the 1920s, and eventually crossed the pond as a futuristic seeming time saver introduced by Tetley in 1953. It took some getting used to: in the early 1960s teabags accounted for just 3% of British tea sales. Today around 96% of our tea comes in tea bags! (source)
#5. Tea has been drunk since 1500 BC.
The practice originated in China where tea was drunk for medicinal purposes, and there is written evidence confirming tea drinking before the second century BC. From China the practice spread throughout the East, and was brought to the West by merchants in the 16th century. Tea reached the UK in the 1650s, and by 1750 had overtaken gin as the nation's favourite beverage, with imports quadrupling between 1720 and 1750 alone.
#4. 'I'm a Little Teapot' isn't the only tea song.
Written by George Harold Sanders and Clarence Kelley in 1939, I'm a Little Teapot quickly became popular in its native USA as well as further afield. Tea for Two, a song from the musical No, No, Nanette, had already taken audiences by storm in 1925, and in the decades which followed everyone who was anyone recorded a song abut tea. From Jack Buchanan (Everything Stops For Tea, 1935) to The Kinks (Have a Cuppa Tea, 1971) to Nirvana (Pennyroyal Tea, 1993). My personal favourite is A Nice Cup of Tea (1937) by British songstress Binnie Hale:
You can talk about your science, and your airships in the sky
I can do without the wireless, and you'll never see me fly
The public benefactor of the universe for me
Is the genius that thought of pouring water onto tea!
#3. Milk is a class issue.
I know, what in Britain isn't!? But starting with milk served a very practical purpose in the early days of British tea drinking - your imitation Chinese porcelain was liable to crack if the hot tea was poured in first. By putting your milk in last, you were telling the world that your porcelain was the real, incredibly expensively imported, deal. This made milk second the 'correct' way to make tea, and a sign you were a true member of the genteel classes. I've always made tea milk first, thus revealing my lower class origins.
#2. PG Tips is the UK's favourite brew.
But Twinings isn't far behind, selling itself as a premium - yet affordable - cuppa. Although their market share has really skyrocketed over the last decade or so, Twinings actually established the first known tea shop in the UK way back in 1706.
#1. Tea has more caffeine than coffee.
But only in its dry form. Smaller quantities of tea are used to brew however, and once prepared a cup of tea in the UK contains an average of 40 mg of caffeine per cup vs. 105 mg in a cup of coffee. (More info at 'Is Coffee Really The Most Caffeinated Drink?') For a truly caffeine free cuppa, switch to herbal teas which are made from different plants. (source: 1 - 2)
How do you take your tea?
For more British food trivia, click the following picture: