We Brits like to think of ourselves as the true custodians of tea: enthusiasts – perhaps even connoisseurs.
But let’s not kid ourselves. We didn’t invent it.
The stuff comes from China. It’s the national drink of Afghanistan. It’s grown everywhere south of Blighty, from Kenya to Vietnam.
Supposedly it’s Ireland which has the highest proportion of tea drinkers, and Turkey tops the list for per capita consumption.
We may have ‘English Breakfast’ in the UK. And ‘Lady Grey’ (or ‘Countess Grey’, I’m told, if you shop at Fortnum and Masons).
But I went to China this year and got laughed at when I asked for a builders’ tea.
For starters, they call it ‘chá’ (茶). There it’s all about green, red, jasmine, longjing, pu-erh and tens more fancy-sounding ones.
Real builders in China walk around with transparent flasks of home-brewed ‘lü chá’ (绿茶, green tea) with the loose leaves floating around. No milk, no sugar.
My lack of sophistication on this front was all too obvious to the Chinese.
So 15th December is ‘International Tea Day’ and I’m determined to brush up on my tea knowledge while drinking a cup of cha.
What’s the point of International Tea Day, I hear you ask? Just another way for corporations to get us to overindulge?
Not this time. It’s an annual celebration started in 2005 by trade union movements in tea producing countries like India, Kenya and Vietnam.
The day is meant to draw attention to the global tea trade and its impact on workers.
So if ever you needed an excuse for an extra cuppa, here it is. Preferably ethically traded from a business that has a personal relationship with the growers such as our friend Bev’s Tea Co (when you make an order, you can get free postage and a taster sample if you use the code ‘RTT’).
Tea’s meant to be pretty healthy for you too: antioxidants, moderate caffeine levels (compared to coffee), hydrating effects and no calories to boot.
Anyway, despite the rest of the world being pretty advanced in their appreciation of tea, all is not lost for the UK’s hopes for tea-worthiness.
There is in fact one tea-based invention that a Brit abroad can claim credit for.
It is, of course, the humble tea towel.
The English upper classes invented it to dry their crockery in the time of Jane Austen, whose birthday is 16th December.
And now the Radical Tea Towel Company has brought it to the masses:
Happy International Tea Day!