Monday, June 18, 2007

A nice GLASS of tea!

One of the most difficult things for any English person living abroad is the fact that you have to learn to make it through the day without, necessarily, being able to lay your hands on a nice cup of tea. Fellow Brits will be able to sympathise with me; every time any of us goes abroad on holiday from the UK we wake up in our hotel rooms desperate for a cuppa, but have to put up with the weak insipid tea bags on offer at breakfast. As an expat, I face a similar issue in cafes throughout the Netherlands. The point is, I’ve had to learn to adapt. But it’s hard with my background*.

At home in Britain, British tea drinkers, like me, are generally very limited in their choice of teabag, opting only for a “nice cuppa tea”-teabag, which is in fact black tea, a bitter blend that is better with milk. If you ask for a cup of tea in a restaurant or cafĂ©, normally it is assumed you’ll want milk and it’ll either already be in your cup with your tea, or you’ll get a small jug. The hard work is done for you, the teabag itself will already have been removed. OR, in the better places, you’ll get a nice fresh pot of tea, so you judge the strength yourself and come back for seconds.

Dutch people are open to a much wider variety of tea flavours, and correctly do not mask the flavour of these particular teas with milk. In Holland, tea is served as a single glass of hot water with a basic (not round, pyramidal or non-drip draw string), but flavoured or scented, tea bag on the side, a teaspoon and a tea bag saucer. There’s no such thing as a pot of tea for two here in the Netherlands. You’ll get a small glass mug with a randomly selected Twinnings teabag, or nothing. No china cup, no mug, no teapot in sight and certainly no milk.

The problem is that the English are so used to drinking their tea with milk that they desperately need to add even a spot of milk to these weaker European blends, even if it’s from the jug of milk that’s supposed to be used with the breakfast cereals. Adding even this slightest drop of milk causes the final brew to look like dirty dish water, which is highlighted through the glass sides of the cup, so the tea looks and tastes very weak and not at all satisfying. Even so-called English breakfast tea bags aren’t strong enough in taste to come close to a nice cup of tea.

So I’ve learned to drink Dutch tea the Dutch way, it tastes better that way. But I’d rather opt for a good old English cup of tea any day of the week.

* Britain is the largest tea market in Western Europe, representing 86.9% in overall volume terms and 92.6% of volume sales of black tea (source: According to the Tea Council the UK drinks 165 million cups of tea a day - 62 billion cups per year.

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