Iconic British Things Part 5: The Humble Cuppa


The glorious French comic book Asterix In Britain spoofed the British love of a cup of tea to perfection: battles between an invading Roman army would grind to a halt as the Englishmen left the field at 5pm, in order to make a spot of hot water with a dash of milk. And as the story progressed, it became clear that the secret to the Roman invasion of Britain was a cunning plan to only attack at tea-time, thus catching the English off guard.

At the end of the adventure, Asterix makes a placebo magic potion which convinces the English they have superhuman strength with which they can beat the Romans, and he does it by chucking a handful of what turn out to be tea leaves into the hot water, and serving it at 5pm.

And that would be funny, if it wasn’t exactly how tea is viewed over here. It’s the stuff of life itself, and a major part of the economic engine which drove the British Empire. And even though those days are behind us, the attachment runs very deep, and shows no sign of shifting.

Tea is not a beverage to be taken as an alternative to coffee. We drink coffee, sure, we’ve got the coffee bars serving cappuccinos and lattes, and very useful a boost it is too. It’s not like we’re unaware that there are other beverages, it’s just that tea is a punctuation point to almost any activity you could care to name.

Just got back from walking the dog? Put the kettle on. Meeting some friends in town? Let’s go for a cuppa. Working hard but fancy a leg-stretch or a sit down (depending on the job)? Time to break out the PG Tips. Cold? Hot? Just woken up? Just going to bed? Had a shock? Fancy a snooze? Happy? Sad? Upset? Elated? There’s no occasion a cuppa won’t cover.

Don’t just take my word for it, listen to this:

Although we’re perhaps a little less punctilious about the time, nowadays. Tea’s an all-day drink, and it’s not just the well-to-do who enjoy it’s reviving charms. Noel Gallagher claims to have once been addicted to 20 cups a day, even offering a helpful guide to making a brew in a recent charity recipe book:

His instructions are simple:

1: Put your sugar in first with tea bag (must be Yorkshire Tea).

2: Fill cup an inch from top. Leave ‘a good while.’

3: Tea must be colour of Quality Street toffees inside yellow wrapper (see pic).

4: Add milk last.

5: Enjoy your perfect cuppa.

And that’s really all there is to it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve left a pot brewing and don’t want it to stew.

Fraser McAlpine is British. This explains a lot.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser is a British writer, broadcaster and the the author of the book Stuff Brits Like. He is Anglophenia's resident Brit blogger, having written BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog, the Top of the Pops website, and for NME, the Guardian and elsewhere. Favorite topics include slang, Doctor Who and cramming as much music into Anglophenia as he can manage. He invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.