It struck me on a recent continental holiday how much we Brits have embraced coffee culture. Although I’m strictly a tea girl, the language of coffee has been absorbed into our culture. We are no longer satisfied with instant, filter or cafetiere coffee, it has to come from a noisy machine and have a fancy name like macchiato.
Coffee fans are very loyal to their favourite brand and outlet. In Europe that loyalty is normally manifested in support for their favourite independent coffee shop, whereas here in the UK generally that support is steered toward the multinational chains that pepper every high street.
Our European cousins take pride in supporting the local provenance and quality of their local coffee shop preferring the individuality of their blends and personal ambiance of the café to the ‘one size fits all’ cultivated feel of the chain coffee house.
Despite a slight drop in popularity tea remains the UK’s favourite beverage. We drink 95 million more cups of tea a day than we do coffee and collectively spend £654 million on tea a year. It’s odd then that tea is viewed as the poor relation. Whereas no one would raise an eyebrow at spending £3.40 on a cup of coffee, there might be uproar if the same were charged for a cup of tea.
Much of this is about perception. Coffee is marketed, packaged and sold, particularly by the global outlets as an affordable, lifestyle luxury and indulgence. It gurgles, steams and cough’s, out of those expensive chrome machines (and they are expensive – the cost of a decent second hand car). We are conditioned then to think that to get a great coffee you need one of these machines and therefore need to buy it from a coffee shop.
Tea gets no such has no such luxuriant marketing. Although 165 million cups are consumed a day most will be from a tea bag. There’s nothing wrong with that but loose leaf tea, demanding a teapot and marginally more preparation tastes so much better (largely because it is better quality tea).
Perhaps it is that DIY quality of tea that twists our perception of its value. The gourmet attraction of tea is rather overlooked and perhaps should be embraced just like coffee as an ‘affordable, lifestyle luxury and indulgence’.
There are a vast range of teas, blends and flavours. It is so much more than just English Breakfast tea (though nowt wrong with that) or Earl Grey. Try the exoticism of Jasmine tea, the smokiness of Lapsang Souchong, or perhaps, try my favourite Oolong. There’s a blend and flavour for everyone.
There’s the ceremony of tea too. Allowing the tea to brew and the sociability of pouring from the pot. Fine china is a must and it really does taste better for it. It certainly adds to the experience and theatre.
It strikes me as odd that there are no dedicated chains of tea houses. There used to be. Up until the 1960’s Kardomah and Lyons Tea shops were in town and city high streets across the country but fell out of fashion.
In Liverpool Leaf, fundamentally specialising in tea is booming and in Manchester Proper Tea and Teacup are following suit. All sell fine blends of loose leaf tea. Over in America Tea Bars are springing up across the country. Perhaps the time is right for a chain of tea houses to emerge in the UK?
At Room Forty we only serve loose leaf tea and in an effort to keep local we use tea from the award winning Cheshire Tea Company and also supply their fine teas to local outlets including SaRnies in Penketh.
Maybe one day my own little business Room Forty (think ‘Room for tea’) might spring a chain of national tea rooms. I’ve no plans for market domination as yet, but who knows! I’ll mull it over over a cuppa…