“Working man’s tea, known better as “builder’s tea,” is everywhere in England. Most places are still serving it – and most people are still drinking it, even if they never pick up a hammer or saw. We may believe that the British are very sophisticated when it comes to tea and – don’t get me wrong – I am sure many are. However, the majority of people I met during a recent trip to London were drinking “builder’s tea.”
So what on earth is builder’s tea? It’s an old term used to refer to builders who refused to work on a house or building unless it had some type of electricity for their kettles – so they could have their tea breaks on schedule while working. It is not “cheap” tea – I won’t say that because of my respect for the industry – but it is affordable for most people. In fact, it was actually a brand name many years back and is still available to this day.
Most people have no idea what is in their cup and don’t know much about tea at all. Sure they drink it every day and usually many times a day, but they really don’t seem to know what they are sipping. The younger generation is a bit more receptive to green tea these days, but “builder’s tea” or similar blends is still a staple in England.
One lump or two? Guess again – for many, it’s at least two heaping teaspoons of white sugar and lots of milk, often steamed or heated. It’s served in a mug and extended pinkies are rarely seen. Twinings seems to be the tea of choice in most shops.
Builder’s tea is strong black tea – most are blends from Assam and Africa – but many don’t seem to even know that. A fist goes into the box of tea and anywhere from two to a handful of teabags come out – depending on whether one is making a cup or a pot of tea.
I will sadly admit that I did not have the chance to have tea in a traditional British tea room during my recent visit! So my impressions were based on my experiences with average folks who, I will say, keep the tea industry alive and booming in England.
I was on a college tour of film schools in London with my eighteen-year-old daughter, so my tea experiences were a tad limited by our hectic schedule. In the administrator’s office of one college, I was served tea. When he read my business card, he got a little nervous about the tea his assistant was bringing us. When I asked her what she was serving after he introduced me as a “tea expert” (which I had not called myself), she got rather nervous too. She said it was “Yorkshire.” Then she looked at him and said, “It’s not the Yorkshire Gold,” so he apologized. I had no idea what either was until I saw it on the grocery store shelf days later from Taylors of Harrogate: “Teas from Assam, Africa and Sri Lanka; blended and packaged in England.” I had asked for mine “clear.” I never made that mistake again in England! Without milk and sugar, it just about curls your hair, which would have come in handy considering all the wet weather we experienced!