George Orwell and the modern tea drinker

I am a massive Orwell fan, particularly of his essays. One of my favourites is ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, which you can read here.

In the essay, which Orwell wrote in 1946 at the height of rationing, he provides the reader with his eleven tips for the perfect cup of tea. He admits that some will provide agreement and that some will be controversial, which I think they still might be today!

He advocates using either Indian (which I assume means Assam) or Ceylon tea, and dismisses ‘China tea’; “One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it.” I think, though, that Orwell would be dumbfounded by the range of teas offered to modern consumers. He was clearly a man who liked his tea-and he liked his tea strong. He would have so much more choice now and I think he would probably enjoy some of the stronger blends that are around these days, maybe a nice Lapsang Souchong,which  personally I hate as I think it tastes like ash. But George was a heavy smoker, so maybe it would be up his street…

Secondly, he thinks weak tea is a complete no-no, so I don’t think he would approve of green and white teas with their delicate flavours and notes. But maybe if he were alive today, he would be tempted to try them. After all, he was a man of bravery and adventure, and I’m sure he could find something to like in these varieties? I suppose, though, a generation used to having tea rationed and not really having a choice would see these varieties as new-fangled and unnecessary.

Orwell is a fan of loose leaf tea, as would most of his generation be- teabags had not really become as popular as they are today. However, most people still use teabags or filters, as otherwise it’s a bit of a faff to constantly wash teapots etc. Also, who has time to prepare a teapot EVERY time they want a cuppa? In our faster paced world, Orwell’s guide just isn’t always practical.

Two areas we agree on, though, are milk and sugar. Orwell says that milk should be poured into the tea after the water has been added to the cup. For both Orwell and me, this is practical; how else can you know when the tea is the right strength for your taste? In my house, there’s always milk in my tea (unless green or white) and none in Benn’s, no matter what the variety. I would never get the ratios right for visitors if I couldn’t see the colour of the tea!

I also don’t take sugar in my tea, like Orwell. I haven’t for about ten years. I prefer to taste the flavour of the tea and I can’t understand why someone would have more than one sugar in their tea, if at all. Orwell’s argument is that you might as well make a drink by putting sugar in some hot water. It’s a bit extreme (as you still get some benefits from the tea even if it’s sweetened), but you see his point.

Overall, I think Orwell would enjoy the varieties of strong black teas, but would be a bit suspicious at first… until you produced a teapot for him!

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