One of the many things I’ve discovered in the years I’ve been writing about tea is that the British have strong opinions when it comes to this topic. In 1946, just three years before writing his most famous work (1984), British author George Orwell set forth some of his strong opinions on tea in A Nice Cup of Tea, an essay that’s still much quoted to this day. More about that one in my previous article.
I’m not sure exactly what qualifies as British, but given that author Alexander McCall Smith was born in a British colony in Africa and how resides in Scotland, I guess it puts him in the same ballpark. Smith, who was born two years after Orwell wrote his essay, is probably best known for a series of mystery novels set in Africa. But for tea fans it’s more important to note that he set forth his own strong opinions on the topic in an essay that appeared in a British newspaper a few years ago.
Smith has plenty of opinions to share in this piece, which is a rather lengthy one. If the title, Confessions of a Tea Addict, isn’t sufficient to let the reader know where he stands, then the opening sentence should do the trick: “Tea has always been there in my life.”
The tea Smith drank as a child – African black tea with several spoons of sugar and often condensed milk – sounds closer to tea-flavored syrup than tea and thus might not have appealed to everyone, including Orwell. The elder writer was quite blunt about sugar and tea, devoting several paragraphs to it, including the following assertion: “how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it?”
Orwell would undoubtedly have approved, of course, of the fact that Smith eventually dropped the practice of adding sugar to his tea, a withdrawal process which took about ten days, followed by a period when “unsweetened tea tasted uncomfortably bitter.”
But there’s plenty more here than Smith’s experiences with and without sugar. He also recounts his flirtations with coffee, his decision to abandon tea bags in favor of loose tea and the tea equipment he takes on the road when he travels. And much, much more. But don’t take my word for it. Read all about it here.
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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