Tea, our national drink is a national disgrace

Can I Eat It takes a look at the state of tea in Britain

Over the last forty years shoppers have seen a massive improvement in the quality of the food and drink products that sit on our supermarket shelves. But tea, our national drink is still a national disgrace.

Almost unthinkable now, but up to the early nineties, London was the hub of the tea world, with most of the finest teas traded there. Tea was associated with Britain, and ‘English Breakfast’ and ‘Yorkshire Tea’ became very strong brands around the world. So much so that it wasn’t unusual for American tourists to walk into the London Tea Auctions at East India House and ask to be taken to the Yorkshire Tea Gardens!

No Tea Estates in Yorkshire, but British companies still own some of the finest tea gardens in the world. Unfortunately, for UK tea-drinkers, their best teas go anywhere other than Britain, with Japan and Germany being the main players. A tea estate manager in Darjeeling told me that even Harrods does not buy the very best quality.

So what went wrong? The problem, it seems, is our impatience. The British tea-drinker requires an instant cuppa, browning quickly and colouring well with milk. The mechanical production process of tea unfortunately results in many different sizes or grades of broken leaf, and only a small percentage of the full leaf, which is the best quality – and the most expensive. The other grades go down to mere dust – the lowest and the worst.

The smaller the leaf, the more the fine nuances of flavour disappear, until all that leaches into the drink are the harsh, bitter oils. It is these tiny broken leaves, which infuse quickly, that go into our tea bags. The worst contain mere powder integrated with fine strips of wood, to help retain the contents in the bag.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with tea bags. The Germans use them for the very best quality leaves. The disadvantage is that these take up to six minutes to infuse, and UK’s dunk-and-drink types can’t wait that long.

Unless drinkers go back to ‘Loose Leaf’ or ‘Slow Tea’ their tea will be second rate at best! So take your time, buy a packet of loose leaf tea, a teapot if you don’t have one and you’ll be rewarded with a cuppa that tastes ‘OO’!

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible, Fairtrade Indian Prince Loose Leaf Tea 

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Can I Eat It takes a look at the state of tea in Britain

Not forgetting:

Barcode: 0615357111363

Yorkshire Tea Loose Leaf Tea
Yorkshire Tea is one of the leading brands on the shelves. You’ll struggle to find better on the supermarket shelves, so if the price fits – put it in the trolley.

Barcode: 00083447

Sainsbury’s Fairtrade Red Label Quality Loose Leaf Tea
This black loose leaf tea is a cheaper alternative to the brands. If the style and price fits – put a pack in the trolley.
Competing Brand: Yorkshire Tea & PG

Barcode: 20451301

ASDA Loose Leaf Tea
Similar quality to the brand. Want loose leaf tea? Put a packet in the trolley.
Competing Brand: PG Tips & Yorkshire Tea


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