British Culture & Expressions

Builder’s tea and a China Cuppa

On 23 September 1658, the London republican newspaper Mercurius Politicus carried the first advert for tea in the British Isles, announcing that a “China drink called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tee” was available in a coffee house in the city.

Tea, The ‘China Drink’

Europeans were reportedly drinking Chinese tea as early as the 16th Century thanks to Dutch and Portuguese traders. England was a latecomer to the tea trade, as the East India Company did not capitalise on tea’s popularity until the mid-18th century.

Tea gained popularity quickly in the coffee houses, and by 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold it. This distressed the tavern owners, as tea cut their sales of ale and gin and the government who depended on revenue from taxes on liquor sales. A 1676 act taxed tea and required coffee houses to apply for a licence.

By 1750 tea had become the favoured drink of Britain’s lower classes. By the mid 18th century, however, tea became Britain’s most popular beverage, replacing ale and gin as the drink of the masses.

Builder’s Tea

Builder’s tea, also known as a builder’s brew, is a British English colloquial term for a strong cup of tea. It takes its name from the inexpensive tea commonly drunk by labourers taking a break. A builder’s tea is typically brewed in a mug with a teabag (as opposed to loose tea leaves in a teapot), with milk and sugar.

George Orwell, A Nice Cup of Tea, 1946 | The 11 points from his 1946 essay

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First published in the Evening Standard, 12 January 1946. Extracted from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7.
  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities – that is, in a teapot.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first.
  • Lastly, tea – unless one is drinking it in the Russian style -should be drunk without sugar.

UCL’s 4 step points

  • Use loose leaf tea
  • Use soft or filtered water
  • Use boiling water for black tea
  • Let it brew for up to eight minutes

 

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