8 May 2017

True confessions of a Canberra tea drinker

| Glynis Quinlan
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Okay all you coffee drinkers out there, I have a confession to make. I prefer tea!

You can keep all your pods, beans, plungers, grinders, coffee machines and blends – as well as your bitter after taste. Give me a lovely hot cup of English Breakfast tea with a dash of milk any day.

Tea has been fortifying the Poms for centuries and they have a lot to cope with on those grey winter days that never seem to end. You may have noticed we have a touch of cold weather here in Canberra too.

And it’s so easy to make! While it may take a little longer if you feel the need for a teapot with tea leaves, most of us humble tea drinkers are happy if a good quality tea bag is used.

But there lies the rub. I think we tea drinkers often get a raw deal in Canberra cafes and social circles.

Brewing coffee seems to have become something of an art form in society, with people going to great lengths to ensure they provide or get to drink the perfect cup of coffee. Cafes can live or die according to whether they have the best barista and the best beans.

Entertainers care about providing guests with amazing coffee and, in recent years, fancy coffee machines have become commonplace in many homes.

None of that is bad but can’t we tea drinkers be treated well too? It’s like we’ve gone backwards as the coffee drinkers have been on the ascendency.

In those same homes with the magnificent espresso machines, you are often lucky to find anything more than a ‘no name’ tea bag or the most basic of brands.

I will concede that there are some wonderful tea houses in Canberra. The Teahouse at Gold Creek is a particular favourite of mine with its 50 varieties of tea and all the ceremony in the way it is served. There are also the T2 Tea stores in Civic, Belconnen and Woden boasting of “exotic smells”, “taste sensations” and more than 200 tea varieties.

However, the problem is that these places are few and far between. In most of the easily-accessible cafes, you can still get a pot of tea if you sit down but it often seems slapped together with little finesse and can be difficult to pour.

Hot water and a tea bag for $5.00

My biggest concern, however, is with takeaway tea. Here the standards have gone right downhill at the same rate as the prices have increased.

I may be a bit frugal, but I strongly object to paying $5.00 for a cup of takeaway tea if I am then given a polystyrene cup of hot water with a tea bag sitting in it and handed a container of milk! Sometimes I have even had the teabag handed to me separately!

Some cafes will take a little more trouble by adding the milk in for me and plonking a lid on top of the cup. This seems a bit better and does show more effort except for one big problem – I don’t want to drink tea with the tea bag left in!

I normally only have one hand to spare and am then left with the dilemma of somehow managing to peel the lid off the cup without hot water going everywhere so that I can remove the tea bag and put the lid back on again.

Couldn’t they just jiggle the teabag around until it’s brewed a bit and then remove it before putting the lid on? What was I paying for again?

Airport cafes are particularly bad with this practice. I train public servants in effective writing skills and in the last two years have done a lot of interstate trips. Whether I am at an airport in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or anywhere in-between, I have given up expecting to find a takeaway cup of tea that I feel is made properly. Instead, I make it my goal to reduce the amount I pay for it.

One time I walked the length and breadth of a large airport food court only to find that the cheapest cup was $4.70. At least I had some exercise!

Another time I was handed a cup of very hot tea without a lid at a regional Queensland airport and managed to overbalance a bit and spill the scalding brew all over my hand. That was a long story which eventually saw me being advised by a cardiologist on board the plane that the burns wouldn’t be permanent – you probably don’t want to know the rest.

What to do about sub-standard treatment

Now one of the hard things to take with all this sub-standard tea drinking treatment is that it seems to have become the norm.

Although I may feel cranky about being handed a cup of hot water for $5.00, I realise the person serving me has been told to serve it that way. Perhaps the rationale is that they don’t want to make your tea too weak or too strong or too milky.

I really do get irritated by this but, hopefully, I am beyond making someone else’s life miserable just for doing their job. I do realise it’s a trivial issue, it’s just that it keeps coming up because I drink an awful lot of tea.

Part of the problem is that, if I am going to behave like a reasonable person, I have no one to vent to. That’s where this article comes into play – I’ve put it all out there now thanks!

If you work at a cafe, then please take the teabag out for me and add in the milk. If you’re not sure how strong I want it, just ask me.

And if I’m visiting your home, it could be a good idea to keep a few good quality English Breakfast tea bags in the cupboard just to humour your pedantic tea-drinking guest. Irish Breakfast tea bags are also acceptable but avoid Earl Grey. I know I’m precious but I’m a lot easier to please than coffee drinkers!

Tea anyone?

Photo: by Glynis Quinlan.

Are you a tea drinker and can you understand my gripes? Please share your experiences in the comments. Or perhaps you’re a cafe owner and want to explain your tea-making policies – that would be great.

Coffee drinkers, you’ve already had it too good for too long but still feel free to offer an opinion. I am fairly robust when it comes to this topic but if you’re too harsh I can always hide away and drink a nice hot cup of tea.

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Glynis Quinlan9:55 am 15 May 17

Thanks for the supportive comments. It’s good to know that there are so many others who share my tea-drinking concerns!

petunia petal7:37 pm 14 May 17

Part of the beauty of tea drinking is the ceremony – my favourite is Iranian style black tea which has a distinctive reddish colour and a hint of bergamot, served in a clear glass so you can appreciate the colour, which you drink with a hard sugar cube between your teeth. Closest thing in Canberra is the Ahmad brand of tea from the ethnic food stores. Only have a tea bag when desperate.

Raging Tempest2:32 pm 14 May 17

I won’t buy cafe tea for the same reasons, but I like mine industrial strength and black, so I like the tea bag to stay in. I’m underwhelmed by T2, the few I’ve had have been weak, low in flavour with a dusty aftertaste, so I haven’t been inclined to try any of the other independent blenders. I’ll stick to carrying my twinings with me.

Single estate Assam at STGFOP or better use to rule. Can’t find it anymore.

Well done Glynis.

It’s so refreshing to have a cup of pot brewed tea anytime, anywhere but particularly on a hot day.

It’s also refreshing to hear someone as erudite as you expressing the real alternative to a cup of lukewarm coffee with a personalised tag floating on top.

I am originally from the north of England and so prefer my tea strong and robustly flavoured. My everyday cuppa is Yorkshire Tea (red label), which I make in a pot and brew for up to four minutes. I also like Assam and, the afternoons, French Earl Grey. I find that most Australians take their tea too weak and jiggle their teabags for about only thirty seconds before removing them.

pink little birdie9:03 am 14 May 17

T2 has a delightful stewing cup for making loose leaf tea. That you fill with the hotwater and tea leaves and then when it’s ready you put it on top of your cup and it drains the tea into it leaving the leaves on the stewing cup. We use the tupperware tea pot when making tea for 4-7 people at family dinner on Mondays (we have tea before after dessert).
Also I find the tea Centre a better place to buy our teas than T2. We also have lots of tea blends from various places that we have travelled.
Also if you visited my house I could offer you 20 different teas but not English Breakfast – I could do Irish breakfast though.

I also hate the practice of providing tea in a thick coffee cup. Tea needs to be served in a finer porcelain style cup. It indicates a lack of professionalism on the part of cafe owners and a disregard for the needs of their tea drinking customers.

endeavourtea8:25 am 14 May 17

I’m a local (Canberra based) independent tea blender and tea merchant. It’s my full time career and dream. You might have seen me at Handmade, Old Bus Depot Markets or even Farmers and Foodies. I’m also stocked at Teahouse Gold Creek.

I couldn’t agree more; tea is far too often neglected in Australia.

My name’s Matthew and I am passionate about changing the tea landscape not just in ACT, but across the country. Check out my website at https://endeavourtea.com for more info. As a certified tea blender and tea master in training, I hope to hold workshops at Barrio in Braddon shortly, with the hope of spreading the word about specialty tea appreciation.

If you’re a tea lover, a cafe owner, restaurant or hamper business, please get in touch and perhaps some kind words. I need your support to make my dream a reality.

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