Monday, 5 November 2012


A simple drink.
A drink so close to every Englishman's heart.
Tea, a drink ingrained into the history of 'Britishness'.

Tea, the thing that most Britons who live abroad miss most.......good English tea.

Of course, we Brits also love our coffee, which I have written about before, (here is the link for those that missed it, but tea is in our hearts, tea is part of Britain's culture and history. Tea is quintessentially 'British'.

So much so that sometimes it is easy to imagine that the British have tea in their veins, instead of blood.

Actually though,as we all know, tea isn't a 'British' drink at all. It exists all over the world and is served in a variety of ways. Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, China Tea, Indian Tea, Ceylon Tea, etc. The tea plant can't even be grown in Britain! 

Tea has historically been so important to the British that we even built fleets of special ships to bring it home to us. The evidence is there for all to see, berthed permanently in  concrete in Greenwich. The 'Cutty Sark' is a monument to the British love of tea, it is a beautiful, sleek three-masted Clipper, built for speed in the late 1800's. She was the last in a long line of these rapid sailing ships that were built for only one thing, to bring tea to Britain. She was fastest of all, for whoever could get the tea leaves back to Britain most quickly, could also obtain the best price for it. 
Sadly, The Cutty Sark had a short career in her intended trade, because by the time she was built, the Suez canal was finished, so steam ships could get the tea back far more efficiently than the fair-wind reliant Clippers.

'Tea' is here in Romania too.
'Ceai' (pronounced 'Chi') 
Traditionally it would be made from leaves, flowers and fruits, picked from the forest and then dried. Once they are ready they are infused with boiling water and then served with sugar or honey. It is a delicious, drink, warming in winter, and refreshing in summer. 
These days of course it can be provided much more easily, simply buy a box of 'Fruits of the Forest' tea bags, place one bag in a cup, add hot water, and it is ready. There is no need to go to the forest, the forest has been bought to the supermarkets, in convenient ready-to-use packaging.
The supermarket shelves here are full of teas, just as they are everywhere else in the world. Herbal teas, medicinal teas, teas for relaxation, teas for invigoration, teas to ease rheumatism and teas to aid the digestion, etc, etc. They are all here and they are extremely popular.

These teas though, can never replace 'English' tea in the British heart, and most of the teas sold abroad labelled as 'English' tea are a sad representation of the truth of a good 'English' tea. They are weak, without real flavour, and without colour.
'English' tea, as the vast majority of Britons know it,  is drunk with milk, but the milk doesn't overpower the taste or the colour of the tea as it does with the inadequate facsimiles of the real thing that are available in most other parts of the world.
(Please, please don't read this and put milk in Earl Gray, it's disgusting, stick to lemon with that one!)
The British can even recognise when tea is made with water from another region! Tea is never the same as the tea you can make for yourself at home, with the water you are used to.
All Brits have their own favourite brand of tea, and are brand loyal for years and years. Songs have been written about tea, and some of the most popular advertising campaigns in Britain have been about tea. They have used Chimpanzees having imaginary tea party's 'talking' just like humans. 

"Do you ride tandem" (Sorry, you have to be British to understand that one!)

More recently they have used Monkeys too, albeit knitted woollen ones.
Tea advertising slogans have become embedded in English culture;

"Everything stops for tea!"
"Tetley make tea bags make tea!"
"You only get an 'oo' with Typhoo!"
"Typhoo puts the 'T' in Britain"
"Tea. The most refreshing drink of the day!"

Any British person will know and recognise all of these slogans, as well as many, many more. I remember as a teenager hearing the songs that went with tea advertising. At about 9 p.m every evening a short advertisement would appear on TV and I would hear;

"I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And about this time of night,
What goes down a treat alriiiight,
Is a nice cup of teeeeeea!!!"

The power stations used to report a peak in power demand at that same time every evening. That one  advertisement would prompt the almost the entire TV audience to get up and put their kettles on, all at the same time, most, probably not even using the brand mentioned in the advert.
The fact that I actually remember the words to the song that went with the advert is testament to how important I, and the vast majority of Brits find tea!

Some British tea brands even re-invented the shape of the tea bag it generally now comes in (Although the tea bag was actually only originally introduced to allow the dustier, more inferior teas to be used than could be sold as tea-leaves). The humble square tea bag became a loose 'pyramid' shape, because it allowed room for the tea to 'brew' more quickly.

My favourite brand? 
PG Tips. It has been for years, and will be for more years to come, although, sadly we can't get it here in Romania. 
This isn't an advertising campaign for that brand, I don't work for the company, it is just the brand that I personally prefer, (but if anyone is ever visiting us from Britain, they are always made slightly more welcome if they bring some of that particular brand of tea with them.......hint........hint!).
The advertising campaign that was used to promote PG Tips used a knitted woollen monkey, and as part of that campaign they gave copies of the monkey, and mugs with the monkey's picture on them away with large boxes of their tea bags.
Making 'Monkee Angels' in Borowetz, Bulgaria
Making friends with a waiter in Tallin, Estonia

We have one of those monkeys and one of those mugs.
The monkey is part of our family and he has travelled everywhere with us as well as with sisters and mothers.
He is a constant reminder to us of 'Good English Tea' 
He is possible the most widely travelled and most photographed little knitted woollen monkey in the world.
He even has his own name.....'Monkee'.

Now for a lesson in English pronunciation;
For the 'Mon', think 'Mun' with a shortened upward 'u' more like a short 'oo', then add the 'kee' just as it is written, or just like the 'key' for a door but accentuate the 'k' sound. There you have it, how to say 'Monkey' in a perfect Bolton accent.
I don't speak with a Bolton accent, I speak proper English, as I come form the South of England, (Go on then Northener's.....bring it on!!!)
but it was Ali's family, some of whom do hail from that part of England who started our family tradition of taking 'Monkee' everywhere with us. So, he has a Northern accentuation to his name.
Our little monkey has been the prompt for many a conversation wherever we have been, when he has been placed on a table beside us;

"What is that?"

We have heard it so many times, asked with a French accent, a Spanish accent, a German accent, an Estonian accent, a Bulgarian accent. The list goes on and on, but everywhere we have taken him he has become the prompt for many a conversation with local people, and a lot of laughter too.
He even has badges on his hoodie to show some of the places he has been.
So what is our answer when asked that question?;

'Plat du Jour',  Sacre  Couer , Paris
"It's Monkee..........of course!"

He even has his own Facebook page so that we can share photographs of him amongst the family, and so many people in the countries we visit want their photographs to be taken with him!
Of course, they could just be humoring these 'Mad English' who carry him everywhere with them, but the smiles on those faces are genuine, and almost always lead to real laughs, and real friendship.

I am not even going to try to explain here actually why the British love their tea so much, or why as a nation we are so loyal to it as a drink. I don't think there is another nation in the world that has such a simple, single thing entirely associated with them. Tea is simply 'English' the world over.
All I will say is that for a Brit, 'English' tea is the most satisfying, reviving, relaxing, refreshing, invigorating drink there is, at any time, day, or night.

And the lyrics of this song, which featured in a 1935 comedy film called 'Come Out of the Pantry' probably say it all anyway. Ironically though, it's written by three American based writers Goodheart, Hoffman, and Sigler, and now I know that they were American, I can recognise a little ironic sarcasm in the lyrics that I hadn't seen before!

(Thanks for the reminder of all of the words)

Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
France is famous for its wine, it's beer in Germany
Turkey has its coffee and they serve it blacker than ink
Russians go for vodka and England loves its tea

Oh, the factories may be roaring
With a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee
But there isn't any roar when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom
In the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help 'em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

It's a very good English custom
Though the weather be cold or hot
When you need a little pick-up, you'll find a little tea cup
Will always hit the spot

You remember Cleopatra
Had a date to meet Mark Anthony at three
When he came an hour late she said "You'll have to wait"
For everything stops for tea

Oh, they may be playing football
And the crowd is yelling "Kill the referee!"
But no matter what the score, when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, the golfer may be golfing
And is just about to make a hole-in-three
But it always gets them sore when the clock yells "four!"
Everything stops for tea

It's a very good English custom
And a stimulant for the brain
When you feel a little weary, a cup'll make you cheery
And it's cheaper than champagne

Now I know just why Franz Schubert
Didn't finish his unfinished symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
And everything stops for tea

So! PG Tips rule!!.......................................OK?


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