In Defense of Black Tea

“What do you mean you don’t take milk in your tea, you’re British!” And so I start with another lengthy explanation about how, believe me, I’d love a ‘builders brew’ (that’s a strong cup of tea to anyone outside the UK) but the thought of milk in my tea sends me a bit, well, green actually.

cup of black tea without milk

A strong cup of black tea with no milk. Just the way it should be.

Like most Brits I consider any time of day apt for a cup of tea – and depending on my mood, I might even venture in to the world of “funny teas” as my Dad likes to call them. By that, he means anything that isn’t filled with semi-skimmed milk and two sugars.

Mainly though, good old black tea is how I start – and continue – my day. I’ve not had milk in my tea for nearly two years now and I’ve learned I need to wait, on average, eight minutes after brewing before it’s suitable to drink. While that may sound really anal, lessons from thousands of burned lips and sore tongue episodes say otherwise.

Not everyone does their brews like Britain. It’s the stuff of stereotypical legend, UK holiday makers flocking to
the beaches of Spain, armed with pasty bodies, tanning oil and tea bags because life just isn’t worth living without a good cup of tea. Although I must point out I’ve never taken tea bags on holiday. Yet.

Most destinations are for coffee lovers. Think Italian espresso, American styrofoam cups to go, Spanish cafe con leche. These are places where late nights are obligatory and a short, sharp caffeine injection is needed to get through the hour, not just the morning. Let’s face it, a lot of places just don’t ‘get’ tea.

So why did I step away from a milky cuppa in favour of a dark, inky, boiling brew? Blame Spain. Yes, it’s all Spain’s fault. Salamanca in fact. I’d been teaching and touring my way through Spain two summers ago, when three weeks in to my trip I realised, shockingly, I’d not had a cup of tea thus far. Just loads of red wine. (OK, and a coffee at breakfast). I practically ran to the nearest adorable cafe for an al fresco tea.

Five minutes later, it arrives and I’m actually pitifully excited. This may have also been to do with the cake that was alongside it. I painstakingly made sure I didn’t put too much milk in my cup in case the tea wasn’t strong enough. (It usually isn’t when it’s Lipton yellow label, ubiquitous tea of choice in Europe). The colour looked good, so I dived right in.

Eeeeugh! What on earth…? To my shock and horror, I’d only been given hot milk. Hot milk and tea. There is
actually nothing worse in the world. No, seriously. I’ve got no idea what happens to the tea when you add hot milk, but it basically turns a refreshing beverage in to liquid poison. Which is weird, because a spicy, milky chai is beautiful. But a normal, run of the mill tea bag is, well, just plain wrong.

To make matters worse, it’s apparently common practice in Spain to do that, unless you specifically ask for cold milk. Which makes me think there are people all over the county actually drinking this stuff on purpose. Which can’t be right.

It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been scarred for life. I tried a couple more cuppas – with cold milk – on my travels, but they were all insipid, not to mention slightly grey in both colour and taste. Upon returning home I just couldn’t face it, I gave up black tea altogether in favour of herbal varieties. I’d even carry a couple in my bag so that I wouldn’t be caught out at friends’ houses. Or have to explain my slightly pathetic tea trauma. Until one morning, slightly worse
for wear, when the cupboards were empty, that I had no choice: I’d have to have an English Breakfast tea if I
was to make it through my morning emails.

I think I over-brewed – it was more like a tea soup than a cup of tea. But over the next few tea breaks, I stuck with it, dunking the bag in the cup less and less until I had a perfect strength to taste ratio. And you know what? I’d forgotten what a lovely taste tea has. Slightly nutty, earthy and fresh. Something that I never tasted when I drank it with milk.

Yes, I have to bleach my mugs more often (Tea stains are a bugger to get out) but I wouldn’t trade it for the masked milky taste of brews gone by.

Black tea also has a ton of health benefits, something that gets lost in all the hype surrounding green tea (and, these days, coffee). Check out this lifehacker article for more.

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