Why good tea matters

Few things are as brilliant as a good cuppa – Alexi Duggins explains why

When you hear the phrase ‘a cup of tea’, the word ‘nice’ is often not far away. Nor are ‘lovely’ or ‘relaxing’ or ‘soothing’. In fact, from the way we stick complimentary adjectives next to the word ‘cuppa’, it’s a wonder it doesn’t baffle the hell out of foreign language students. Half of them must come away with the impression that there are two separate drinking vessels we use for tea: the ‘nicecup’ and the ‘lovelycup’.

There’s a reason for that: tea has a special place in our hearts. Be in no doubt about it, our national drink is still a cuppa. Your Insta feed might be full of pictures of latte art and cold brew, but according to the UK Tea and Infusions Association, Brits still drink 95m more cuppas daily than they do coffee. Every second of every day, nearly two thousand cups of char vanish into tea-hungry Brits. In the time that it’s taking you to read this sentence, enough tea to fill eight baths has been drunk. And it’s just happened again. And again. And again.

So, obviously, good tea matters. And if you need any evidence to prove how important a good cuppa is, just ask yourself the following:

  1. Milk in first or last?
  2. Also tea should have loads of sugar in, right?
  3. Wait, why are you getting so het up?

It’s hard to think of a drink that’s as personal as tea. When we want a cuppa, we want steaming hot, flavour-packed tea with just the right amount of milk in it. We want it to have been brewed for exactly the right amount of time, the milk to have been introduced at the correct point of the process and we want it served in our favourite mug – yes, we do have a favourite and, yes, we are fussy about which one we drink out of. We don’t just want our bellies warmed and our thirst quenched, we want it done to precisely to our very specific list of preferences, thank you very much.

There is, in fact, something almost spiritual about a good cuppa. Why else would the Chinese build it into their wedding ceremonies? Or mediums think that they can read our future at the bottom of a china cup? Why, when the recent Parsons Green terror attack happened, was, “The kettle’s on”, the first response of numerous Londoners who wanted to help the afflicted?  Because tea isn’t just a drink for our tastebuds. It’s a drink for our souls.

And this is why there’s just something intrinsically sad about a poor cup of tea. Few things are as miserable as dying for a cuppa and having to settle for a polystyrene cup of foamy beige liquid and it’s because you drink it in the knowledge of how perfectly it could have hit the spot. Now, obviously, tea is pretty good a lot of the time - personally, I feel much the same about tea as Woody Allen does about pizza (“a lot like sex. When it’s good it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good”). But when it’s done right, it’s sublime. It isn’t just a few hundred milliletres of liquid: it’s exactly what you need. Surely that’s worth getting right?

Alexi Duggins is a freelance features writer whose love of writing about tea is surpassed only by his love of drinking it (strong, no sugar – thanks). You can read more from him at: www.alexiduggins.com or www.twitter.com/alexiduggins – and he'll be sharing some of his top places to drink tea in the coming weeks...

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