Black and strong

The Tea House, Covent Garden

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know of my passion for tea. It is hardly surprising that I am a tea-lover, having been brought up in England where drinking tea is the next most natural thing to breathing.

Curiously enough, my passion for tea became even stronger when I became vegetarian. Like all new converts, I pursued my new way of life with vigour and rigour and almost became vegan rather than “merely” vegetarian. Among other things, I saw it as an anomaly that I needed to put milk in my tea, so I looked for alternatives.

Nowadays there are several alternatives to cow’s milk, the production of which is considered cruel by many vegetarians. For starters, there is goat’s milk which is acceptable to some as it can be obtained from producers who treat their animals kindly. Then there is rice milk and a number of other “milks” (how long will the EU continue to allow the term “milk” to be used in their labels?) made from non-animal materials. By far the most popular, of course, is soya milk.

There is now a whole range of soya milks, from the basic sort made with soya beans and water and nothing else up the the more complex kinds that include flavourings and additives thought to be helpful to vegans who might not obtain these nutrients from their other food sources. So for me, the new vegetarian, soya milk was the answer. I poured it on my muesli and put a dollop in my tea.

Those of you who have used or still use soya milk probably know what’s coming next. Soya milk is wonderful stuff until you try to use it in hot drinks. Put it in your tea or coffee and it precipitates and sinks to the bottom, calling up memories of the sour milk I endured as a child in a house without a fridge.

I already drank my coffee black so the obvious solution was to drink my tea without milk also. I have done this now for two decades.

Why did we put milk in tea? Was it to stop the thin porcelain cups of the first tea imbibers from cracking from the heat? Or was it to hide the bitter taste of the tannin-charged teas that the English prefer? I don’t know. I soon found that the only reason for taking milk in tea was to hide the disgusting taste of the most common brands of tea.

But I also discovered that there was an enormous range of teas out there that were as varied as fine wines and were truly delicious as well as stimulating and comforting. I dived into this delightful world with enthusiasm. Now, years later, I have many favourite teas but my tolerance has also increased so that at a pinch I can drink even ordinary tea straight from the pot.

I have flirted with green tea but I always felt unsatisfied with it, probably because it is low in caffeine. In the end I gave in and went back to fermented teas and have never looked back. My current favourite is Russian Caravan which includes smoky-tasting Lapsang Souchong to give it a punch. Running low, I ordered some by telephone from The Tea House in Covent Garden and patiently awaited its arrival.

Something must have gone wrong with the order for the tea did not appear. It will not now arrive until after our holiday next week. So today I had to hurry off to Covent Garden to buy some to tide me over.

Having done so, I was able to go home for a nice cup of tea!


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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12 Responses to Black and strong

  1. David says:

    We have not had cows milk for at least 5 years in this house. Soy is the only way to go, although I have had rice milk in my tea.
    I prefer it black most days. I drink green tea, Roobios, Stinging Nettles, Missletoe and many black and “white” teas.

  2. Ed says:

    When I was in England as a French language assistant, not adding milk to my tea was the clear evidence of my being a foreigner.
    But the tea most people drank made me add milk too ! It was so black and strong, as in your title, that the first time I had been served tea I thought it was coffee…
    Nowadays I drink lots of sorts of tea too, always black, but not as strong as PGtips or Typhoo tea served as it was in Corby in 1981 !

  3. jamesrye says:

    For about two months now I have been trying to cut down on fat and have been drinking black tea and using soya milk on cereals. I love the soya milk – to my taste it seems more creamy than ordinary milk. I am getting used to black Earl Grey, but I must confess, it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys.

  4. SilverTiger says:

    To David: From being hard to find, except in “health shops”, soya milk has become a product easily found on supermarket shelves. That suggests that the public has taken to it. The other infusions you mention are increasingly popular too, though I have never managed to like “herbal teas”.

    To Ed: Tea without milk used to be the exception in England. I would get strange looks when I first asked for it in cafes and restaurants but nowadays no one turns a hair. Maybe it has to do with the obsession for slimming.

    I sympathise over the PG Tips. This is perfectly good when drunk in the English way with milk but not on its own.

    In England, you have to ask not to have milk with your tea but when we were in Paris it was always served without milk unless milk was requested (then they brought it hot!).

    To jamesrye: In the days when I had muesli for breakfast, I liked soya milk better than cow’s milk though I know a lot of people find it unpleasant.

    Tigger’s favourite tea is Earl Grey and she puts milk in it. I don’t like Earl Grey myself.

    Over time you get used to tea without milk. The best thing is to start with it weak and work up. It is important to get good quality tea, of course.

  5. I am not really a tea drinker but if I do I wouldn’t have it with milk in it. It seems a very odd thing to do (but then my maternal line is German and they don’t put milk in tea so I suppose I grew up with that approach). Maybe I would like tea more if I investigated more expensive options? I’m not sure. I find Earl Grey OK although it is perhaps a little what i would call “fragrant”.

    People have this idea don’t they, that children should drink a lot of milk. I have never encouraged mine to do so – they drink water or fruit juice. But people often comment on it – as if they will be deprived of calcium and not have strong bones. Inevitably living in this house they eat a lot of cheese so I always assume that is OK.

    I drink a lot of coffee – very strong and always black.

  6. SilverTiger says:

    Tea doesn’t have to be very expensive to be good. The old specialist tea and coffee retailers seem almost to have disappeared. New fangled ones are appearing that present more like wine shops and over-charge for their wares.

    It’s worth seeking out a shop with plenty of choice such as a delicatessen or old-fashioned grocers. (I wouldn’t recommend Whittard’s: their tea never tastes of anything.)

    Teas that are popular with tea lovers include Darjeeling (often subtitled “the champagne of teas”) and Assam. If offered a choice when I am out, I choose the latter. It’s not a strong-tasting tea but a good one well brewed (in a tea pot) can be very enjoyable.

    Supermarket tea rarely comes up to scratch. And of course, tea-bags are to be avoided.

  7. emalyse says:

    As you know I’m a big devotee of tea (coffee makes me ill) and I have tried soya milk yonks ago but would rather take it black as I just cannot get used to the taste of soya milk (had it on cereals and everything).There always used to be an hypothesised argument put forward that cows milk had a ‘dangerous’ level of XO (Xanthine Oxidase) which is OK ordinarily but gets changed by homogenization and so is able to cause all sorts of havoc in the human body.100 years of tea bags to by the way (which most tea purists despise).

  8. SilverTiger says:

    I have met other people who find soya milk undrinkable. Tastes do vary so much.

    I have heard all sorts of stories about milk but I haven’t heard of any studies showing that consumers of milk preferentially suffer specific ailments. The daily pinta continues to be a British tradition even if we now tend to buy it from the supermarket rather than have it delivered by the milkman.

    I don’t like tea bags either but occasionally resort to them when there is no alternative as when making tea in the hotel bedroom 😉

  9. Milr says:

    Have you tried Pu-erh tea? It’s pressed into cakes and allowed to age (the only type of tea which improves with age, a bit like maturing wine). You drink it without milk and it has a lovely smooth, slightly sweet flavour. You need to be sure you find good quality cakes and not teabags.

  10. SilverTiger says:

    I haven’t tried it in the form you describe – which sounds interesting (maybe the Chinese supermarkets in China Town, Soho, sell it) – though I did once try some Pu-erh in leaf form and didn’t really like it. Maybe it’s an acquired taste.

    I’ll take a look in one of the Chinese shops next time I am down there and see if I can spot any. Also, it’s possible that the Tea house has some as they do stock a wide range.

  11. Milr says:

    It does take a bit of getting used to but since I started drinking it I find I have gone off ordinary, milky tea! You can get it online too, The Tea House, Cup of Tea and Noble Fox all sell it and I am sure there are probably others too.

  12. SilverTiger says:

    Maybe I’ll give it a try, then. I like to vary my teas otherwise I get used to the particular variety I’m using and appreciate it less.

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