Here’s a thing that’s ridiculous: at a conservative estimate, I’ve probably made 23,000 cups of tea in my life. And most of them haven’t been very good.
The thing about tea is, it’s not hard to get right. The sequence (bag, water, pause for 60-90 seconds, remove bag, milk) is well-established – but it takes a bit of effort. It’s much easier to mess with the steps (milk while the bag’s still in, so you can carry the tea away from the fridge before de-bagging, squeeze the bag with a spoon if you’re too impatient to wait for it to brew properly or milk and bag before water if you’re an absolute savage with no regard for decency), because it makes your life slightly easier. But then – and this really is the thing – you’re drinking shitty tea.
Before we move on, let’s just quickly do the maths. I can’t remember how old I was when I started drinking tea (or regularly making my own), but since the age of 16, I’ve certainly averaged about three cups of tea a day (the upper limit, when I’m working in an office, sometimes climbs as high as eight – the lower, when I go on holiday, is zero). I definitely make more than I accept, and I’m a stickler for making reciprocal teas for other people. 21 x 365 x 3 = 22,995. That’s a lot of tea. And sometimes, I don’t make a single one of my average-three-a-day properly. I have three chances a day to enjoy a lovely hot drink, and instead I ruin them all because I’m slightly too impatient or lazy to do things properly.
I’m not alone in this.
According to recent research, teabag sales dropped 15% between 2013 and 2015, which an anticipated drop of a further 5% this year. Trend analysts put this down to young people worrying about staining their teeth, worrying about their health or wanting to seem cool by drinking abomination flavoured with matcha or blackcurrant. But let’s be honest: it’s just laziness. Passionfruit tea might taste like a disgusting children’s drink, but it doesn’t really taste any better or worse depending on how you make it. Even coffee is comparatively simple: buy the nice stuff and chuck it in a cafetiere, and it tastes acceptably good. English Breakfast, on the other hand, rewards the artisan and crushes the half-asser: there’s no middle ground.
And this, on a microcosmic scale, is a lot like a lot of things in life: going to the gym, say, or doing your job. You’re going to do them anyway, and by doing them worse you’re only really cheating yourself. Fractionally more effort – a bit more attention paid here, a bit less bullshit multitasking self-distraction there – often means better results, and multiplied by the amount of times you do the thing, those results can add up to something enormous. Or – and this wouldn’t be a bad payoff either – you might just get to drink a lot of nice tea.
Recently, I’ve been making more effort with my tea. Every time I make a cup, I do it the way I’ve known I was supposed to since I was about 14 (bag, water, pause for 60-90 seconds, remove bag, milk). Every time, the tea is lovely, and I enjoy drinking it. It’s made me think about doing other stuff the same way.
You know what you need to do. It’s not much more effort to do it properly. So why aren’t you doing it?
HOMEWORK: Make every cup of tea you drink this week an absolute banger. And if you want my thoughts on the Japanese tea ceremony, you’ll find them here. Live hard!