Many of you will be aware that I am a bit obsessed with tea, and have been accused of being, at times, a tea snob, — an accusation I do not deny. So, to the casual observer, it might seem that my going to London for a year would be just the thing to satisfy my cravings for Camelia sinensis. After all, the British built their empire on tea, and “Tea Time” is one of the most enduring cultural rituals in Britain.
But, dear readers, it is not so easy, I’m afraid. You see, in my snobbery, I tend to favour the pure and the delicate in tea (feel free to skip the next paragraph if you do not care for my rhapsodic soliloquies):
There are some teas for which I suffer through the first infusion just to get to the more subtle flavours of the second; to me, ‘grassy’ is an absolute compliment for a green tea; if I cannot tell whether the tea put before me is Gyokuro or Sencha by sight alone, then I can usually determine after the first taste, and I once astounded several colleagues by telling them where their tea had been grown just by sniffing it.
The Brits meanwhile tend to prefer plonk from a sachet full of ground up tea, doused in milk. So for me, the best part about tea time in Britain is usually the biscuits or the scones, not the tea itself.
Now I should add here that it is in many ways easier to be a tea drinker in the UK than in the US. During afternoon breaks at various types of events or after church on Sundays, coffee holds a near monopoly in the US, and asking for tea can sometimes elicit the same reaction as telling someone that you think it was actually UFOs that hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. In the UK, however, tea is always available, even if it isn’t top notch. And moreover, because black tea reigns supreme in the UK, large retailers here haven’t bothered to try ruining green or white tea by adding dried fruits, trendy herbs or other superfluous flavourings, as have manufacturers in the US. So even though good oolong, green and white tea is hard to find here, when you do find it, it’s usually still pure and unadulterated by the capricious market research of Teavana or Celestial Seasonings.
So being a tea connoisseur in Britain is not easy, but it’s not awful, and moreover, there are signs of hope…
TO BE CONTINUED!