From The Sunday Times
November 2, 2008
I quite understand why people choose to be communists or Australians or tattooed. I may not share your opinions, but I know why you have them and I would fight for you to be able to express them in public.
Obviously not to the death, though. There’s no way I am going to die so that a green person can climb up a chimney and write “Gordon” on it, for instance.
However, while I understand why people want to drive an electric car or cut the Queen’s head off, and even why some people decide to emigrate to Spain, I do not understand why people continue to drink tea.
Recent figures show tea consumption is shrinking, especially among young people, yet Britain is still by far the largest consumer in the world per capita, with each person in the land drinking, on average, four cups a day. This is baffling.
I quite like a cup at around 5pm because this is “tea time”, but the figures suggest that many people are drinking it at “coffee time” as well. Some, since there is such a thing as “breakfast tea”, must also be drinking it first thing in the morning. This is as mad as starting the day with a prawn cocktail – and it all has to stop.
First of all, asking for tea in someone’s house is extremely antisocial because, if you take it with milk and sugar, this is a complicated, four-ingredient request. It’s exactly the same as being offered a biscuit and saying, “Ooh, thanks, but actually I’d prefer a Sunday roast.”
Seriously. That means meat, potatoes and two veg. And there is no difference between this and tea, milk, sugar and boiled water. In fact, it’s worse, because your host will have to find a teapot that hasn’t been used since their wedding day and is at the back of a cupboard behind the equally dusty fondue set.
In fact, the only thing I hate more than people asking for tea is people who ask for a gin and tonic. Why can’t you just have a beer like everyone else? Because now I’ve got to hunt down not just the gin and the tonic, but also the lemon and some ice.
At least with coffee most people have a machine that can deliver a refreshing and invigorating brew at the touch of a button.
Furthermore, coffee drinkers, being more travelled and therefore intelligent, will take it in the European style. Black with nothing added.
Of course, you may say that coffee causes your teeth to go brown and your heart to explode. But tea, if we’re honest, is as healthy as sucking on the pointy end of a machinegun.
Eight per cent of a tea leaf is toxic, around 25% is irrelevant, 2% is nutritious caffeine and most of the rest is acids, arsenic, chlorophyll, salts and tannins – which are useful only if you want to give your stomach lining the texture of a horse’s saddle.
If I were to use the model dreamt up by environmentalists when discussing climate change, I could very easily argue that tea will cause you to lose control of your limbs and that you will have to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Which could happen, for all I know.
Herbal varieties, however, are even more dangerous because if you come round to my house and ask for peppermint tea I will punch you in the mouth. Herbal tea is for nonces. At best, it is pointless. At worst, it is an affected piece of Hyacinth Bucket snobbery designed for the sort of people who spend half an hour deciding whether the wine they’ve been given is all right.
And chai tea? Have you tried that? Well, don’t – because you can achieve exactly the same effect, for a lot less, by drinking your own urine.
Of course, I dare say that some of you at this point are wondering why I am writing about tea in these troubled times. And thinking that, surely, with Peter Mantelpiece back on the front line and the financial markets in disarray, there are more important things to worry about.
Not so. Because when you stop and think about it, how many French or Italian banks have gone bust? And while we wobble, Spain’s Santander bank is stalking the globe like one of the country’s gigantic trawlers, sucking up the broken minnows.
This is because they are all coffee drinkers. They wake up, have an espresso; then, invigorated, they go to work quite literally full of beans.
We, on the other hand, expect to be able to operate on a stomach full of wet leaves. Tea, in actual fact, caused our banking crisis.
And before you point out that America is in a mess and they drink coffee, I should explain that they don’t. They put half a granule in a Styrofoam bucket and call it coffee.
But it’s not. It’s just a cup of warm water, and you can’t operate on that either.
The most popular tea in Britain is the sort favoured by workmen. They like it because it takes an age to make and is far too hot to drink when it’s ready. It is, in short, nothing more than an excuse for not doing any actual work.
That’s why it was so popular with empire-builders. They needed something time-consuming to fill the long, yawning hours. For the same reason, they played endless games of cricket.
Today, tea drinkers are clinging onto a way of life that’s gone. Tea break. Tea time. Tea clippers. It’s got to stop.
Tea should be viewed in the same way as we view coal. Something from the past. Something that is no longer relevant. Something for those who see the world in monochrome, through the eyes of Terry and June.
In an espresso MTV world, tea no longer has any place.