Have I written enough about tea? Hot drinks are named again and again as crucial to the experience of hygge. In Denmark, it’s coffee that hits the spot… the Danes drink approximately 5.3kg per head per year but in the UK it’s tea that binds and keeps us hygge.
We’re famous for tea drinking, as you can read on this Social History of Tea from the UK Tea and Infusions Association. Given world affairs (I am not mentioning anything in particular) have things in an uproar here today, I found the section on tea drinking during the world wars interesting.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, there could be no doubt about the importance of tea to the British people. This was acknowledged by the government during the First World War. Tea was not initially rationed, but tea prices began to rise as a result of ships being sunk by German submarines, and so the government took over the importation of tea and controlled prices. During the Second World War, the government took even more drastic action to safeguard this essential morale-booster. Just two days after war broke out, it took control of all tea stocks, and ordered that the vast reserves then stored in London must be dispersed to warehouses outside the capital in case of bombing. When during 1940 enemy blockades prevented ships from getting through, the Ministry of Food introduced a ration of 2oz of tea per person per week for those over the age of five. This was not a lot, enough for two or three cups a day of rather weak tea. But there was extra tea for those in the armed forces, and on the domestic front for those in vital jobs such as firemen and steel workers. Tea was also sent in Red Cross parcels to British prisoners of war abroad.
The end of the war in 1945 did not signal an immediate end to rationing, and tea remained rationed until October 1952. It was shortly after this that the tea bag, an American invention, began to make an impact on British tea-drinking habits. It was to revolutionise the tea industry, and today 96 per cent of all tea sold in Britain is in tea bag form.
George Orwell offered sensible advice to make the 2oz ration go as far as possibleRationing by no means diminished the British enthusiasm for tea. In January 1946, the author and journalist George Orwell published an essay called ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ in the Evening Standard newspaper, calling tea ‘one of the main stays of civilisation in this country’, and listing his 11 ‘golden rules’ for tea making.He acknowledged the controversial nature of some of them – such as his insistence that the tea should be poured and then the milk added, and that tea should always be drunk without sugar – but he also offered sensible advice to make the 2oz ration go as far as possible, such as using water that is still at the point of boiling, in order to make the strongest brew from the least tea. Orwell also used the ritual of tea-making as a device in his fiction. In his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the main character, Gordon Comstock, makes tea secretly in his rented room as a means to undermine the oppressive authority of his landlady, who does not allow it. But the ritual and secret delight of Comstock’s evening cup of tea also reveals something about himself: Comstock, an aspiring poet, has attempted to reject everything that he associates with bourgeois society – but he cannot reject its favourite drink.
Tea is such an integral part of our life. I work in an office and copious amounts are drunk every day while we work or write our articles, the first move I make at home when I get there is to tap on the kettle and make a cuppa and certainly the first question when a friend or relative drops by is “Do you want a drink?”
The World outside is an uncertain place. Oh my word, reading Twitter and Facebook the End of Times is at hand. With one thing and another there is a lot of uncertainty today. I’m not going down any political route, except to say that as with Brexit there are a lot of separated people across the US and the world who sit on opposite sides and are arguing about the future. Whether the future is bright because it’s orange or the most uncertain times lie ahead, we have an obligation to make a path together. We can’t afford to turn away and shrug our shoulders. We need to build those virtual bridges and create communities that, even if we don’t like each other, work because we work together. The rhetoric is easy, the doing less so. The first step is always to ask; “Would you like a cup of tea?”
It’s like a secret medicine, a plaster that fixes everything. And today (no, no politics) more than every we need a cup of tea. Breathe, relax and share a moment. If we can help to shape the path, we can change the future. One cup at a time.