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British Expat Newsletter:
23 May 2007

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Best drink of the day
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

What more British drink could there possibly be than tea? We’re famed the world over for our fanatical consumption of the stuff – and according to the Nationmaster website, we’re top of the league of tea consumers with a whopping 2.3kg each per year. (Ireland used to hold the top spot but appear to have slipped back a bit – they’re still at No.2, but with only 1.5kg per head.)

As it happens, we didn’t get started in earnest on the tea we know and love today until comparatively late on. Up until the 1830s the tea drunk in Britain was overwhelmingly Chinese green tea, over which the East India Company had the monopoly. There are all sorts of legends about early novice tea consumers boiling the leaves, then throwing away the liquid and eating the leaves as a vegetable, but for the most part the idea of drinking the liquid caught on, particularly in the fashionable coffee shops and tea gardens of 18th century Britain. The East India Company had tried to cultivate tea experimentally in Calcutta under its control as early as 1780, but nothing much came of it even in British India, though tea was discovered growing naturally in Assam in about 1820.

But it was in the 1840s that the black tea explosion began. Even though the flavour was substantially different – a good deal more robust, for starters – it appealed so much to the British that it quickly supplanted green and oolong tea almost entirely, both in India and back in Blighty.

A surprising amount of ritual has built up around tea in many of the countries where it’s most avidly consumed. The Japanese tea ceremony, the “chado” or “sado”, is perhaps the most famous example. At its most complex it can go on for four hours – much of which is spent sitting in a kneeling posture, with the buttocks on the heels and the tops of the feet flat on the floor. Painful!

British tea culture is comparatively unrefined, although the rest of the world still seems to think that we all sit down promptly at four o’clock in the afternoon with our porcelain cups, silver cake stands and sugar tongs – not to forget the doilies, of course – for our afternoon tea. But there’s plenty of mystique in the preparation of the tea itself to mark us out as being superbly eccentric.

One of the biggest frustrations about asking for a cup of tea abroad is that usually the person making the tea doesn’t use boiling water. Quite why this should be, I don’t know – after all, it’s not exactly rocket science, and if they’re heating the water anyway they might as well do the job properly. As it is, usually the tea doesn’t get the chance to develop its flavour because it never gets hot enough to release all the oils.

Then there’s the big controversy about whether to put milk in before or after the tea – and, being a peculiarly British controversy, naturally class is bound up in it. Allegedly it’s better etiquette to pour the tea first; the theory is that people who couldn’t afford porcelain had to put the milk in first to avoid the risk of boiling water cracking their cheap cups. Porcelain wasn’t prone to that particular risk, so posh people didn’t need to worry about it and could allow their guests to pour as much or as little milk as they wanted. However, many tea aficionados reckon that the tea tastes slightly better if you put the milk in first – that way the milk doesn’t get scalded as it hits the hot tea. Of course, if you don’t bother with milk in the first place (and if you’re drinking a really good tea then do you really want to adulterate the flavour?) then it’s a moot point – and as a bonus no-one can deride you for being an oik or a Rupert.

But at all costs it should be fresh, pasteurised milk. We believe there are still people in the Birmingham area who prefer “stera” over “pas”, but they’re in the minority – at least in the UK. On the other hand, it’s common on the South Asian sub-continent to boil the milk together with the tea, water and sugar, which must have a pretty similar effect to serving tea with sterilised milk. Yuck!

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

The UK Tea Council’s website is full of loads of fascinating facts and fun stuff – as well as heaps of information for those in the industry, whether it’s selling tea or serving it. Not all of it agrees with what we’ve written above, but there you go! is great fun! Described as a “quirky site about a couple’s never-ending international quest for the best tea and biscuits”, it goes into various related aspects, such as what’s been done to the McVitie’s Digestive to make it more attractive to the Japanese market.

Here’s what the BBC’s h2g2 (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) wiki has to say about tea.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • wogan commentary on internet
  • sankie pankies puntacana
  • aluminium chemical treatment
  • dogproof garden
  • why advertise on roundabout uganda
  • burglar girl gloves
  • swollen lumpy bites
  • dwarves bowls cocaine
  • polaris world pitfalls
  • if the dog has snow on his back

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

– Sir Philip Sidney, English poet, courtier and soldier (1554-1586)


A hotel in the Soviet Union. A room for four with four strangers. Three of them soon open a bottle of vodka and proceed to get acquainted, then drunk, then noisy, singing and telling political jokes.

The fourth one desperately tries to get some sleep. Finally, frustrated, he hits on a ruse. He surreptitiously leaves the room, goes downstairs, and asks the concierge to bring tea to Room 67 in ten minutes. Then he returns and joins the party.

Five minutes later, he ostentatiously bends over a desklamp and says into the shade as if into a microphone: “Comrade Major, some tea to Room 67, please.”

Five minutes after that, there’s a knock at the door, and in comes the concierge with a tea tray. The room falls silent; the party dies a sudden death, and the guy finally gets to sleep.

The next morning he wakes up alone in the room. Surprised, he runs downstairs and asks the concierge where his neighbours have gone.

“Oh, the KGB has arrested them!” she answers.

“B-but… but what about me?” asks the guy in terror.

“Oh, well, they decided to let you go. You made Comrade Major laugh a lot with your tea joke.”

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