Has the internet lost interest in British-style tea?

mbanu
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 1:53 pm

Early internet conversations all seemed to revolve around British-style tea. Places like TeaChat I suppose were transitional, in that you could find people who were interested in the finer details of Assams and Ceylons, Wedgwood and Brown Betties, and maybe Keemun and Lapsang Souchong were their main Chinese teas, with a bit of dabbling with Yunnan, while others were more keen on Chinese teas.

Now the trend seems the reverse, with Yunnan teas having the lion's share of interest, Yixing and celadon, and maybe Ceylon for something like silk stocking tea, with a bit of dabbling with Darjeeling.

Is this a generation gap? Novelty seekers moving on to something new? Guerilla marketing from the Chinese equivalent of the Tea Board? The changing face of the internet? What happened?

That's not to suggest of course that the Real World has lost interest, although the UK itself seems to be moving towards coffee, it just seems strange that if someone were to ask me about a place online where people talk primarily about British teas, the closest I can think of is the subreddit /r/RateMyTea, which seems to be a thinly disguised advertisement for Yorkshire Gold. (That may just be the nature of Reddit, though; /r/tea seems to be sponsored by Yunnan Sourcing. :) )
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LeoFox
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 2:02 pm

@mbanu, how has your tea drinking habits evolved over time? Does it parallel what you say has happened?
_Soggy_
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 2:45 pm

I think there is certainly a shift towards other-styles of tea from just British-style tea. The amount of tea produced in China is a very large amount with a vast growing region with sub-regions producing various types of tea. The next biggest is obviously India which most British-style tea is based on. I would say that the colonialism of India narrowed the scope of tea they produce for British colonies. This is different than in China where a lot of tea was consumed internally for them and various regions had different tastes. I think what probably triggered it was second/third world coffee movements, globalization of the marketplace, and internet access. Suddenly China was a big treasure map to westerners who are getting excited about loose leaf tea. As always, IMHO.
.m.
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 3:18 pm

Being largely ignorant, for me "british style tea" means (with the honorable exception of darjeeling) a black tea from plantations in India, Sri Lanka or somewhere in Africa. The very minimal requirement I put on tea is that it doesn't make me feel worse after drinking it, and unfortunately most of these teas don't pass that threshold. I'm sure there are some makers who try to make a great tea there, but i'm not aware of reliable sources, and even if i knew, i'm not sure it would be enough to stir my interest when there's a long list of other teas i'd love to try.
Unrelated, i've been seeing lately more and more nice black teas from Georgia (once the supplier of "russian style tea" on the other side of iron curtain ;) )
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Bok
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 8:01 pm

If the British would make better tea, there’d certainly be more interest again. But let’s face it they’re no competition for the fine teas that come out of its places of origin.

May be there was some good British tea way back, but I actually doubt that it ever was the case. There just was no access to anything better.

Don’t tell me the tea of British heydays, transported for weeks and months on end on sailing ships was good tea... sea water dampness, dirt, foul smells, all that seeping into teas packed in wooden crates. The arriving result in the harbours of the UK could not have been anything we’d nowadays even remotely recognise as nice tea.
.m.
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 2:05 am

Bok wrote:
Fri Nov 20, 2020 8:01 pm
Don’t tell me the tea of British heydays, transported for weeks and months on end on sailing ships was good tea... sea water dampness, dirt, foul smells, all that seeping into teas packed in wooden crates. The arriving result in the harbours of the UK could not have been anything we’d nowadays even remotely recognise as nice tea.
That's where the ancient knowledge of letting the tea rest after shipping comes from. ;) And why they drank "black" tea, which back then included oolongs as well as hongcha and anything else that made the journey ... it actually sounds much better than the current produce.
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wave_code
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 5:25 am

Bok wrote:
Fri Nov 20, 2020 8:01 pm
Don’t tell me the tea of British heydays, transported for weeks and months on end on sailing ships was good tea... sea water dampness, dirt, foul smells, all that seeping into teas packed in wooden crates. The arriving result in the harbours of the UK could not have been anything we’d nowadays even remotely recognise as nice tea.
hey, some of us pay good money for unique storage character :lol:
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Bok
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 5:36 am

Fools... :lol:
karma
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 10:52 am

A quick browse through reddit.com/r/tea shows that British tea isn't dead on the internet. Instead, I think that this specific tea fandom/community uses things like gungfucha, puer, gaiwans, yixing pots, etc. to differentiate itself from both people who enjoy their casual teabag and the "old women and doilies" idea of a tea aficionado. I don't know how much of it is due to the quality of the tea, as there're plenty of people who enter this space by drinking awful teas, and instead I think it's more based on identity markers like those in 3rd wave coffee or craft beer or cocktail revival. There's something in the idea of a gaiwan (for instance) that I think appeals to people on an emotional level, as many get into it online without having tried gungfucha or gyokuro or GABA oolong, and then proceed to make purchases in order to try it. My suspicion is that these markers are include the appeal of the ritual of tea preparation, the lack of alcoholic content, and the fact that tea is more obscure that other options, while not being unfamiliar. British tea would not conform to those markers, and it makes sense that it would draw a different crowd. It isn't dead on the internet, its dead on our little corner of internet.
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debunix
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 12:12 pm

I don't know about the internet, but I know that my path to tea hit a wall when I first stepped from enjoying the tea served with meals in asian restaurants to trying teas on my own. The easy to access teas in local shops were variations on British style teas, meant to have their bitterness blocked with milk, and I could not find any way to drink them. And when I ventured beyond the safe harbor of the SeaDyke Ti Kuan Yin my father shared with me--I could recognize that red label--in chinatown shops I had more bitter experiences. I have discovered that not all black teas are as bitter as English or Irish breakfast or Earl Grey, but I did not meet Yunnan gold or Jin Jun Mei or Taiwanese Ruby or Sun Moon Lake blacks until well into my tea journey.

I think you don't need the internet if you enjoy British style teas--they're easy to find and appreciate if you can cope with the bitter or drink them with milk.

And if I recall correctly, the British did not initially fall in love with bitter black teas either--they started with greens, and switched when they were already hooked on tea but discovered the toxic adulterations being done to keep those green teas actually green colored on the long journal from China to their tables.
faj
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 1:55 pm

debunix wrote:
Sat Nov 21, 2020 12:12 pm
I think you don't need the internet if you enjoy British style teas--they're easy to find and appreciate if you can cope with the bitter or drink them with milk.
In my youth, the only contact I had with tea was my aunt being a grocery store teabag drinker. The first time I connected with tea is an event I remember vividly. It was a Christmas office party. After dinner, there was only coffee and tea offered to drink, and having never been a coffee drinker, for some reason I decided to make myself tea. For some other reason, I decided to leave the bag in hot water for a very short amount of time, a few seconds maybe. I did not add milk or sugar, and was surprised at the delicate and pleasant aromatics.

It was more than 10 years after that event that I started exploring loose leaf teas, and in the mean time I did drink tea from teabags, at some point on a daily basis. I was not drinking tea that I felt was bitter, but I was not letting teabags soak in boiling water for several minutes, either. I really knew nothing about teaware and other ways to prepare tea, it was just through trial and error that I settled into relatively short infusions.

I can say without a doubt that loose leaf tea came into my life because I was hoping to find better tea. I was quite resistant at the beginning to the idea of purchasing teaware. I became an avid loose tea drinker long before purchasing my first clay teapot. For some strange reason, I had never researched tea online : it was only after visiting a tea house and purchasing loose leaf tea for the first time in person that I began doing that.

The nice thing is I got to introduce my aunt, now in her seventies, to loose leaf tea. I gifted her a very basic kit with a few samples. She orders online now. I find it telling and somewhat moving that after a lifetime of drinking teabags, and without any form of cultural pressure, she made that change in her life and got to appreciate better tea, though she probably does not venture much outside black teas from India, and maybe a few Chinese ones.

I guess there must be many others, like me, for whom a very humble form of British-like tea consumption was a gateway to a wider exploration. Being attracted by the teaware, ceremony and "mystique" before even having a passing interest in tea, can that really be the primary pathway to tea enjoyment for Westerners?
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rdl
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 5:40 pm

Interesting topic and responses. I appreciate the guardians of the leaf, and the historians replied, but to my mind British style is no more than a larger pot, oxidised tea steeped 3 minutes or so, and not re-steeped. Sugar, milk, lemon may be added, but never by the purist. And neither will teabags be used. Why the insistence on bitter, bad tea? I recall someone in TeaForum or Teachat writing about visiting Sri Lanka and having an exquisite cup of tea at the tea plantation overlooking the tea bushes.
Think of all the 1000s of grocery stores selling tea in all the Asian countries. That tea definitely won't hold up to the standards I am reading about in this thread, but it doesn't define Japanese or Chinese tea. But huge segments of those populations are drinking it.
I haven't answered the initial question because I am not on the internet enough to know the answer, but I can say that if you buy a superb black tea (directly from it's source if possible or a blend, which was not to mask bad quality but harmonize different tea characteristics) put a few teaspoons in a pot, and follow the rest of the recommended instructions, then drink, none of the negative characteristics I am reading in above posts will be present. You may not care for British style tea, but it certainly wouldn't have been shipped by the British to the American colonies and suffered other such indignities. 2020 has some advantages.
Ethan Kurland
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 8:16 pm

rdl wrote:
Sat Nov 21, 2020 5:40 pm
......I recall someone in TeaForum or Teachat writing about visiting Sri Lanka and having an exquisite cup of tea at the tea plantation overlooking the tea bushes.
...... but I can say that if you buy a superb black tea (directly from it's source if possible or a blend, which was not to mask bad quality but harmonize different tea characteristics) put a few teaspoons in a pot, and follow the rest of the recommended instructions, then drink, none of the negative characteristics I am reading in above posts will be present.....
I was thinking of posting to mention black tea from Sri Lanka that falls into the category of British tea in my mind. Remembering it, I don't think of adjectives such as superb or complex; yet, I certainly enjoyed using those leaves which produced a brew free of bitterness & other off-putting characteristics. It was superior to common commercial brands by far. I drank it hot with milk & would not mind some occasionally now (but wouldn't go out of my way for it). This certainly was not bad tea. I think I could enjoy it without milk.

A lot of commercial blends are not trying to mask anything. They want their customers to be able to rely on them for consistency. Those blends may give customers a bit of fishy taste, a harsh edge, or other characteristics that many of us of this forum would think are "bad". It is what their customers like. Companies blend teas from around the world to get the same taste in a cup year after year though one year that blend may contain tea from Argentina & another year tea from Malawi & neither country will be mentioned. My unresearched guess is that most of the people who use these teas are sweetening them and/or adding milk.

From my young adulthood until the ascent of middle age, this kind of tea was fine for me hot with milk or cold with sugar (and sometimes lemon & sugar). Now I can taste "foulness" too well to enjoy such a drink. However, when I am at the end of a jar of jam, I put a cheap teabag or 2 into the jar that is coated with the remains of fruit & sugar, to steep for a few minutes before adding milk,....I like it.
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LeoFox
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 8:24 pm

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Sat Nov 21, 2020 8:16 pm
rdl wrote:
Sat Nov 21, 2020 5:40 pm
......I recall someone in TeaForum or Teachat writing about visiting Sri Lanka and having an exquisite cup of tea at the tea plantation overlooking the tea bushes.
...... but I can say that if you buy a superb black tea (directly from it's source if possible or a blend, which was not to mask bad quality but harmonize different tea characteristics) put a few teaspoons in a pot, and follow the rest of the recommended instructions, then drink, none of the negative characteristics I am reading in above posts will be present.....
I was thinking of posting to mention black tea from Sri Lanka that falls into the category of British tea in my mind. Remembering it, I don't think of adjectives such as superb or complex; yet, I certainly enjoyed using those leaves which produced a brew free of bitterness & other off-putting characteristics. It was superior to common commercialu brands by far. I drank it hot with milk & would not mind some occasionally now (but wouldn't go out of my way for it). This certainly was not bad tea. I think I could enjoy it without milk.

A lot of commercial blends are not trying to mask anything. They want their customers to be able to rely on them for consistency. Those blends may give customers a bit of fishy taste, a harsh edge, or other characteristics that many of us of this forum would think are "bad". It is what their customers like. Companies blend teas from around the world to get the same taste in a cup year after year though one year that blend may contain tea from Argentina & another year tea from Malawi & neither country will be mentioned. My unresearched guess is that most of the people who use these teas are sweetening them and/or adding milk.

From my young adulthood until the ascent of middle age, this kind of tea was fine for me hot with milk or cold with sugar (and sometimes lemon & sugar). Now I can taste "foulness" too well to enjoy such a drink. However, when I am at the end of a jar of jam, I put a cheap teabag or 2 into the jar that is coated with the remains of fruit & sugar, to steep for a few minutes before adding milk,....I like it.
I think Ceylon tea can be quite good with no need for any milk or sugar depending on brewing parameters. I do like to add a pinch of Ceylon cinnamon and/or a few strands of saffron to later infusions though. It is not to mask some deficiency but simply to elevate the experience.
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rdl
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 9:19 pm

I'd like to clarify my use of the word "blend." I agree with Ethan Kurland that consistency in taste is maintained by blending teas. I was referring to tea type blends like Scottish Blend. To quote from the Adagio website:
"Richly blended with Assam, Keemun, Yunnan, and Sri Lankan full-leaf teas, you'll get a deep cup with malty notes, red fruitiness, hints of smoke and a touch of Yunnan pepperiness." These are the blends I meant, the whole being greater than the sum of parts.
However, the opening post is about the decline in online discussion of British style tea; maybe we are remedying that.
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