Every six minutes, someone dies of a heart attack in the UK. British people are struck by 124,000 heart attacks per year, of which just under 88,000 are fatal. The recent MUNCHIES article "You've Been Making Tea the Wrong Way for 30 Years" states "the Brits take their tea as seriously as a heart attack". I would like to suggest that this view is something of understatement. I would like to suggest that, for this nation of tea-lovers, a bad cup of tea may be less of a worry than a heart attack, and in some serious cases may even be the cause of it.
A heart attack, if fatal, is over before you know it; you're never going to have to go through it again. The taste of a bad cup of tea lingers in the mouth, in the mind, and, yes, in the heart.
According to the UK Tea & Infusions Association, the British consume 165 million cups a day, and 60 billion each year. Those numbers alone show the seriousness of the situation. It would take the British 484,000 years to have as many heart attacks as they do cups of tea per year, and nearly another 200,000 years if these were all to be fatal. Each British person owns, on average, one heart, and drinks an average of three to four cups of tea daily. The likelihood of their heart attacking them? Very small. The chance that one of these cups of tea will be made for them by someone else who takes it differently or does not know what they are doing and are about to make you hate them? According to the results of this "How Do You Take Yours?" survey, probably quite high.
And digest this: 14 million Brits (that's almost a quarter of the population) claim they "cannot function first-thing without their brew." Lee Hourigan, a tea-user in Ireland, tells me: "I have [started the day without it], but I have also left the house without washing or brushing my teeth and still wearing the clothes I fell asleep in. I view the lack of a cuppa in the morning with the same horror."
Shayne House of the Tea Appreciation Society feels much the same. "Good god alive!" he says. "Start the day without tea!? What sort of anarchy is this?" Horror. Anarchy. Cannot function. This from people who we've already determined have hearts. Primary organs that pump blood around their bodies allowing them to live, to function. Granted, we have established these very organs have the potential to attack them to death. But the very fact these people were alive enough to answer the survey and my questions proves that a cup of tea is more powerful than the heart—and that it may be the tea itself that is keeping them alive.
More from the same survey: A cup of tea makes a Brit feel better about life and is often offered upon the reception of bad news, like, for instance, if someone had had a heart attack. A good cup of tea would make it better. Could a heart attack make a bad cup of tea better? No! Only by rendering you incapable of drinking it.
Do not accept badly made cups of tea. Do not surround yourself with people who make them. They don't care about you.
And this is the heart of the tea-drinking experience, if, by God, I can just calm down enough to write it. A heart attack, if fatal, is over before you know it; you're never going to have to go through it again. The taste of a bad cup of tea lingers in the mouth, in the mind, and, yes, in the heart. It can prove fatal to friendships, or, should it go untreated, sour a relationship to the point where you'd prefer a heart attack to another cup of tea from That Person, or wish they would have a heart attack to deprive them of the ability to fuck up another cup of tea. It weighs on you. It erodes.
Only an idiot gives their heart to someone who cares nothing for it. Do not accept badly made cups of tea. Do not surround yourself with people who make them. They don't care about you. They don't care about your wellbeing, your heart, your happiness. Why, then, should you care about them? Life is too short to feel that shortness of breath, that tingling in the arm as the bad tea comes towards you. Take care of yourself. Take care of your heart.
But how to do this?
The milk-first/milk-after/with-milk/without-milk debate rages on. Ignore it. There will never be an agreement.
Mark Welsh, an English tea-drinker living in Vietnam, says: "Milk first, born and raised."
Shayne House: "Drop a bit of milk into the cup if you're making it for my gentle lady. I, on the other hand, will have no truck with lactating cows. I like to taste the tea, unadulterated."
Quinnan Stone of Nothing But Tea: "I personally don't drink milk (lactose intolerant). However, if I am making tea for other people who do have milk, I would add the milk in afterwards."Some people will never ask you how you like your tea. It does not even occur to them. They are not to be tolerated. They are a disease, and they must be stopped.
There is the potential for friction here, but also respect. And respect means we can sort out these small differences, person to person, when the need arises. We do not need to go to war with each other over milk. We can ask each other how we take our tea. No problem. But there is one type of tea-maker too often left out the debate that we, whatever our personal preferences, must unite against, for they are shit and do not understand.
As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, they are often to be found in US-style cafes, but I have met several in private homes in England, holding a British passport in one hand, and a cup of something revolting in the other. They will never ask you how you like it. It does not even occur to them. They are not to be tolerated. They are a disease, and they must be stopped.
What is their crime? They put the water in first, then the bag, followed immediately by the milk. They hand this to you, this thing that cannot brew, that cannot become tea. And then they fucking smile at you and say something like, "Ooh don't you just love a nice cup of tea?" Well, no, I certainly don't love it like that, and I can feel my heart pounding already.
For the British, it is tempting to just pretend you enjoy it in order to avoid a scene. But you live with the consequences of that for the rest of your days. Not just you either—everyone. Because if you pretend it's all right, they'll just carry on. They'll teach their children. Their children will teach their children. The habit will spread. I, for one, will not stomach it. And neither should you. It's time to call them out. It's time to call them by their real name.
These people, as tea-user Lee Hourigan says, are "a shame to the nation". I cannot look at them. I cannot. They need to go, and, as Shayne House says, "close the door on the way out." And once they're gone and I've sat a while with my fingers on my pulse, or with my head between my knees, I'll take a deep breath, delete their contact details, and make my own cup of tea.