Tea is at the centre of British life and has been for centuries.


Make a nice cuppa and you are halfway to being British! Follow the simple instructions to the letter and enjoy the cup that cheers!


• Tea (black), one teaspoonful per person plus one for the pot

• Boiling water, a kettleful

• Milk & Sugar according to taste


1. Heat the pot with boiling water. Empty and add the tea and fill with boilking water.

2. Leave for 4-5 minutes then pour (a strainer is advised when using loose tea).

"A Nice Cup of Tea"

"Tea is always drunk with milk, and it is usual to brew it very strong, about one spoonful of dry tea leaves being allowed for each cup. Most people prefer Indian to Chinese tea, and they like to put sugar in it. Here, however, one comes upon a class distinction,or more exactly a cultural distinction. Virtually all British working-people put sugar in their tea, and indeed will not drink tea without it. Unsweetened tea is an upper-class or middle-class habit, and even in those classes it tends to be associated with a Europeanised palate. If one made a list of the people in Britain who prefer wine to beer, one would probably find that it included most of the people who prefer tea without sugar."

[George Orwell/Essays/A Nice Cup of Tea]

The British are one of the largest tea consumers in the world, with each person consuming on average 1.9 kg per year

Indispensable Tea

It's hard to think what the British would do without tea. It has been the UK's main non-alcoholic beverage for centuries. It's preparation is simple, but unless procedures are followed faithfully, an inferior taste can be the only result. George Orwell took the subject seriously enough to write about it:

"For the great bulk of British people, the invariable breakfast drink is tea. Coffee in Britain is almost always nasty, either in restaurants or in private houses; the majority of people, though they drink it fairly freely, are uninterested in it and do not know good coffee from bad. Of tea, on the other hand, they are extremely critical, and everyone has his favourite brand and his pet theory as to how it should be made.”

During the Desert War the British Army got through more tea by weight than artillery shells. Contemporary soldier Spike Milligan observed that they were damn lucky that Rommel never tried baiting minefields with tea.


"Tea is always drunk with milk, and it is usual to brew it very strong."

Orwell's Scottish Cottage

Orwell really goes to town on the subject of tea, and I think we can see how important it was in his and other's lives, as important as the caffeine and sugar based drinks we consume today.

Let us recall, this was a writer more usually associated with his adumbrations of the literary scene, reports from the front-line (whether it be Barcelona or Bradford), analysing the English language, as well as novelising and poetising (to less effect).

But Orwell could turn his hand to anything it would seem (but not drama ...?). His scope was more or less the here and now — all the threads and facts and features that made contemporary life — its wars, its politics, its culture, and its habits. In the same way H.G. Wells wrote of future society Orwell wrote for the most part about his present society, only reaching into the future in his last great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

And tea-drinking in Britain (and the Empire!) is an essential part of those otherwise rather grim decades in the first half of the twentieth century, and Orwell, having made a few observations, pays homage to the wonderful brew by telling us how to make it well.

Experience tells me that his guidelines are spot on, although I am not sure about keeping the pot on the stove (although it would depend on whether you were wintering in a cottage in the remoter parts of Scotland or not).

At the heart of a good cup of tea is the time and trouble taken, tea, and boiling water, but the quality of the water can let you down.

In Britain water is usually either "soft" or "hard" (somewhat calcified) and some tea merchants have tried to adjust to these circumstances. Results suggest that they have hit the nail on the head.


Kevin McClintock
Kevin McClintock
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Kevin McClintock
Master of Arts, Cambridge writer and teacher. Interests: Cosmology, Philosophy, Theology, Literature, Music, Politics and Science.
See all posts by Kevin McClintock