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Home > Culture and Society

Everything stops for tea

22 May 2005

Tory turncoat and dubious kerb-crawler William Gladstone once said, 'If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.' He was of course, in the main, quite wrong. What perhaps he should have said was, 'If you are dull, tea will please you. If you are anything less than dull, it will bore you to tears.'

The good news then, is that tea - tedious, soulless little drink that it is - is finally on the way out. And not before time. The thing is, if you ask us, no-one actually likes tea. It's like Allen Carr says in his little How to Stop Smoking books. He says that although you have convinced yourself that you like cigarettes, that you enjoy the taste and the sensation of drawing the burning tobacco into your lungs, you actually don't; you're fooling yourself. The same is true of tea. The only reason you think you actually like the bland taste of the greyest of all drinks is because you were brought up to drink it. It's tradition turned habit turned blind unquestioning adherence to dullness. You should be ashamed of yourself.

So this week the results of a massive survey of 25,000 consumers carried out over two years by market research company Mintel were released. The figures make grim reading for anyone who makes their living from tea and hopes to continue doing so. Compared to the coffee, fruit juice and bottled water markets, which have never been healthier, tea is dead in the water. Indeed it seems the only thing keeping the tea market alive at all is the rise in popularity of speciality teas and herbal and fruit teas, but anyone who saw Barry Gorman, executive director of The Tea Council on BBC News 24 on Wednesday, will know what the official, traditional line on all that new-fangled rubbish is, and it isn't good. It was an amusing scene however, as an array of speciality infusions were paraded before a disdainful Gorman. The presenter read out the names of some of these so-called teas and Gorman gave his verdict in a Scots accent so sniffy and pompous and irritating that it made Miss Jean Brodie sound positively Begbie.

Chamomile? 'Noat a proaper tea.' Spearmint? 'Noat a proaper tea.' Tangerine jojoba? 'Noat a proaper tea.' Earl Grey? 'Now that's a proaper tea.'

We can't help feeling that, apart from the stultifying dullness of the drink itself, stuffy old oafs like Gorman are also partly responsible for the demise of tea. But the fact of the matter is, coffee is just as dull. However, coffee is adaptable. It isn't just black or white; it's cappuccino, frappuccino, macchiato, Americano, double decaf latte with chocolate sprinkles, and so on. Plus, with its caffeine buzz, its potential to take on a bit of booze and its iconographic place in Hollywood films, coffee has a certain cachet. Even people who don't like it will drink it just to look good. No-one ever drank tea to look good.

Something else Gorman was keen to hammer home on the news this week was that the levels of caffeine are much lower in tea than in coffee. It's almost as if he wants to go out of business.

It would of course be relatively easy to turn around tea's decline. Here's how:

* Embrace speciality teas. As long as you have tweed-jacketed dullards curling their lips at flavours and herbs, tea will continue to die.

* Open endless tea shop chains. Swish, trendy, silver and brown, ridiculously overpriced. Possible names include Mr Tea, The House of Tea and Mmmmmmm, Tea.

* Snag some celeb to bring in the idiots who actually fall for celebrity endorsements. David Beckham hasn't got enough money - we're sure he'd be only too pleased to be the new face of tea.

* Disband the Tea Council. They haven't got a fucking clue.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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