The end of the British Empire is nigh

It’s not Brexit that is the harbinger of doom. It’s not the latest wave of immigrants that will overwhelm the previous wave of immigrants, the Normans, or the wave before that, the Angles and Saxons. It’s not the threat of loony dimwit Charles inheriting the throne.

It’s that The Guardian has published an heretical article questioning the bedrock of British sensibility.

Tea is shit. We don’t examine this enough in England. We just putter along, thinking tea is good; but it’s not good. It’s a lukewarm mug of leaf water, presented as a cure-all for life’s ills. “Nice cup of tea,” people say, when you’ve watched a vivid car accident or been given a terminal diagnosis, or gone for a walk and it’s started raining. Whether the mafia has kidnapped you and made you kill a man with a gun to win your freedom or if you’ve done quite badly in an exam, someone will say: “Let me get you a nice cup of tea.”

Whoa. I mean, it is only being published in one of those irrelevant radical northern newspapers, but still, those are dangerous ideas. Collapse is imminent. Chaos will run rampant. What does it even mean to be English anymore if this kind of rubbish is in the air?

Another cuppa is not going to help. Break out the brandy, everyone.


  1. rietpluim says

    The British are such lousy cooks, they even manage to spoil their tea. Tea is delicious when properly made.
    (Funny that some of the world’s top chefs are British, though. Must be rebellious behavior of a food loving minority.)

    But yeah, it is quite shocking a British newspaper writing such things.

  2. jacksprocket says

    Nowt wrong wi’ tea. Better wi’out salt in it. Or as the Romans said, de gustibutts non est disputandum.

  3. chigau (違う) says

    “Nice cup of tea,” people say, when you’ve watched a vivid car accident or been given a terminal diagnosis, or gone for a walk and it’s started raining. Whether the mafia has kidnapped you and made you kill a man with a gun to win your freedom or if you’ve done quite badly in an exam, someone will say: “Let me get you a nice cup of tea.”

    And what, exactly, is wrong with all that?

  4. cartomancer says

    Righty ho chaps, settle down. Monocles to eyes, top hats front and centre, tiny smaller top hats on top of those top hats just in case there is an emergency. And somebody for god’s sake turn on Bake Off. We can get through this. Blitz spirit chaps. Stiff upper lips and all that.

    Actually, I’ve never liked tea very much. I drank it as a small child when it was given to me, but by the age of about seven I had realised that it wasn’t nearly as nice as other drinks. Ever since I have much preferred Pepsi and Coca-Cola. I don’t think I’ve had a cup of tea in over a decade. I’m also a committed republican (in the British sense, i.e. I think we should abolish the monarchy entirely and do away with the class system), I despise football (I despise American Armoured Rugby too, but that never seems to come up), and to compound my heresies against the country of my birth I think the Beatles are among the most overrated, drippy noise-warblers that godforsaken dungheap by the Tyne ever shat out.

    But it’s okay. Tea is largely irrelevant to British society these days. What really keeps us together is the BBC.

  5. Dunc says

    Of course the writer thinks tea is shit, since they seem to believe that it is only available in bags.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    cartomancer @6:

    the most overrated, drippy noise-warblers that godforsaken dungheap by the Tyne ever shat out.

    Confusing Tyne with Mersey? Gormless Southerner, at best.

  7. cartomancer says

    As far as I’m concerned the North begins at Banbury. Beyond that it’s all whippets, pigeon-fancying and cannibalism.

  8. postmodernslavepoet says

    However – as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon noted back in 1840 – proper tea is theft.

  9. says

    When I was a kid I read some great accounts of the Battle of Balaclava. One thing I particularly thought was fascinating was how Colin Campbell stationed the highland regiments up-river from the English regiments – which was why the highlanders didn’t get cholera as badly as the English. The upper class tea-drinking English fared better than those that drank the raw scotswater, and I suppose those that subsisted mostly on wine did OK, too. Earl Cardigan, I’m looking at you.

  10. Oggie. says


    Damn. Pzed, you should have just done a post about Apple vs. Windows. Would have been a far less contentious discussion.

    I like tea. Specifically, peach or ginger peach white tea. In bags or loose. Either way. With a glob of honey.

    The rest of you are philistines who do not understand real tea!

    [some snark may be included in this comment. especially the preceding paragraph]

  11. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#21:
    If they think tea is shit, they should try the vile sludge that is coffee.

    It’s only vile sludge if it’s made right.

    [I am a swinger: I like both coffee and tea!]

  12. Doc Bill says

    Walking into a flat on a cold, damp London day somebody would say invariably, “Cuppa tea?”

    And all was right with the world.

  13. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Part of my thinking is captured by Tabby, in #21, but I also agree with some who say that making it right makes a difference …

    … and further that different teas with different possible additives make very, very different drinks. I’ve never liked beer, though I had a particular beer (I think it was Belgian?) when I was in Paris that I would be willing to have another time. Other than that, there’s not a single beer that I’ve ever tried that I would be willing to have again. And yet? People tell me that beer isn’t shit.

    I think it’s got a lot to do with whether people oversteep it, the particulars of the tea in front of you, and idiosyncratic tastes. I won’t tell people that if they don’t like tea, they just have to try more teas. There’s some truth to that, but at the same time, if you don’t like something, how many times should your peers expect you to try it again in some quest to find your personal white tea?

    So, yeah. Heresy. The Brits fall apart. But whatevs. More tea for me.

  14. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Not even British, and even I know “tea” is not served medicinally.
    It’s only a motivation to sit and talk with associates about whatever is on their minds, The specific liquid is largely irrelevant.
    It is TIME, and conversation, that is the medicine; to relive anxiety and frustration.
    Holding all emotions within is the damaging affect, while sharing them, unburdens ones cognition.
    “tea time” is a kind of
    ad lib “group therapy”, which is also a way to apply benefit through “side-effect” and not directly.

    my casual observation of the value of “tea time”, having found these kinds of benefits from my reluctant participation in a BISSG (Brain Injury Survivors Group). Thank you for reading.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    There are as many kinds of coffe as tea.
    The blends on offer in Scandinavia are (subjectively) better than what passes as coffe in Merca.
    In the 18 century, a king was worried this strange black broth was dangerous, so a condemned prisoner got pardoned on condition he drank a cup each day. He surrvived to old age, which in 18 century conditions was remarkable.
    – – –
    Btw the Finns drink the most coffe in the world. How you interpret that may depend on what you think of Finn culture, they think Crocodile Dundee was a softie.

  16. robro says

    Can’t. Move. A. Muscle. Hell. Just. Froze!

    Actually, I enjoy a cup of tea now and again. And, my English friend makes excellent tea. (BTW: A shot of Jameson’s makes everything good.)

  17. Gregory Greenwood says

    I drink neither tea nor coffee (nor alcohol as it happens), and I am a Brit – no less so than any leaf or bean infusion gulper. Meaning no offence to the non-British Pharyngulites, but much like the idea of the ‘stiff upper lip’ or ‘no sex please, we are British’, these tropes are much more important to how non-Brits define their cultural interpretation of stereotypical Britishness than they are to the sense of identity of the British themselves. It is the same phenomenon as the idea that Australians have a particular fixation on the wearing of hats with corks tied to them by string, that the French habitually eat snails and are all gastronomic connoisseurs and enthusiasts of high culture, or that the Germans as a people have an innate tendency toward precision engineering. None of it is truly denigrating, but none of it captures the reality and complexity of the experience of being from one of those cultures.

  18. Zmidponk says

    As a person of British persuasion, I am not going to say this very loudly, and would appreciate it if everyone here were to deny ever having heard me say it if anyone starts asking questions, but:

    I prefer coffee.

  19. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    Not British, but I always preferred the “fake teas” anyway, like peppermint, camomile or Swiss herbal mixtures. Or coffee. Yeah, just give me coffee please.

  20. Saganite, a haunter of demons says

    Also, mandatory “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”-reference.

  21. says

    You shall taky my tea only out of my cold, dead hands.

    I drink a lot oof tea. Mostly unflavored sometimes with lemon and sugar, but never, ever. with milk. Warm milk in all its iterations is bleh.

    I cannot stand coffee, it makes my stomach ache. As for herbal infusions… Well, some of them are usefull. When I am so sick that I do not notice what they taste and smell like.

    De gustibus non est disputandum.

  22. nomaduk says

    “I don’t drink tea. I hate it. It’s mud. Moreover it’s one of the main reasons for the downfall of the British Empire.”
    — James Bond, Goldfinger

  23. jazzlet says

    That Mich Benn song needs updating, great as it is, he includes Rolf Harris as a plus, though at least he didn’t mention Jimmy Saville (or if he did I didn’t hear it).

    Mostly a coffee drinker, but I do drink tea at times, though very weak tea with lots of milk, so I’m not sure it really counts.

  24. Louis says

    1) Anyone who says tea is crap or somehow bad is either a) wrong or b) making it wrong (see a) ).

    2) Anyone who resorts to pathetic stereotypes and (decades outdated) remarks regarding cooking is a parochial moron, likely an inbred, incest loving, racist American know-nothing who never leaves their state, who is also totally obsessed with guns, flags, and hatin’ fags. Because that’s what all Americans are. All 350 million. No diversity. No subtlty. It’s just the truth. Cope with it.

    3) Anyone who says coffee is crap or somehow bad is either a) wrong or b) making it wrong (see a) ).

    4) Anyone who thinks Banbury is the limit of the North/South divide is perilously deluded and should probably be shot for the danger they pose to society. The North/South divide starts at Wimborne. Possibly Corfe Mullen. Never trust anyone from Somerset, although I will concede they occasionally get cider right. Hampshire is a hellhole occupied only by the souls of the damned. The Home Counties are riddled with polar bears and/or footballists. Either avoid or bomb as is appropriate. Anything north of that has Geordies, Scousers, Macams, Monkeyhangers, Mancs, and possibly even Celts in it. And no gentleman should trust those degenerates.


    P.S. I wonder, given that this is Pharyngula and we all do love a bit of Wargarble, if I will have to explain the jokes.

  25. mond says

    Why do you want leaves in warm water?

    Because he is an ignorant monkey who doesn’t know any better.

    Obligatory Hitchhikers reference

  26. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says



  27. Louis says

    It’s definitely nigher. Brexit will doom and damn us all.

    It’ll be the 70s all over again. If we’re lucky. It could be the 40s/50s all over again. And no amount of Blitz spirit is going to make me cook with powdered egg.


  28. says

    Tea is made in gallon jugs, filled with sugar and ice, right? Goes especially well with fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes and molded green jello (with the little marshmallows in it).

    Wait, wut? You drink it hot?! Ewwwww!

  29. Rich Woods says

    It is worth noting that the author of this heinous three-year-old article, Joel Golby, was rightfully sentenced two years ago to transportation for 21 years. We don’t know which colony he was dispatched to, but friends abroad are advised to keep an eye out for this miserable individual. Feel free to offer him a nice cup of tea to make his indentured servitude more unbearable.

  30. johnlee says

    What does cartomancer mean, the North begins at Banbury? East Grinstead, more like

  31. paxoll says

    Suffice to say, Brits have to ramp up their power production at the top of the hour between tele shows because of all the electric kettles being run.

  32. catbutler says

    In a world with coffee why would anyone need tea? It’s like drinking a mug full of depression and lawn clippings (and don’t say I haven’t had good tea—I’ve even been to the Tao of Tea in Portland with all its fanciful renderings of various teas from around the globe).
    Time for an espresso I think.

  33. vucodlak says

    Tea. Hot and bitter. I’m already hot and bitter. Now, you make it ice cold and squirt a little raspberry syrup in it, and you’ve got something.

  34. davidc1 says

    @39 Say something nasty about Shropshire ,go on i double dare you.
    PS ,everyone knows the north starts at Watford .
    PPS, and the M25 is to keep them cockneys away from the rest of us.

  35. gijoel says

    Coffee is shit too.Bitter crap that people only drink for the mild buzz. There I said it, come at me bro.

  36. says

    I like tea, since I discovered that it could be made drinkable by the simple expedient of using only small amounts of good tea and good clean water. Fetid swamp water isn’t quality tea.

  37. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin maintains two of problems are people use water at the wrong temperature, and often use only the leaves. Most people use boiling or near-boiling water. This is far far too cold. And it’s water. Lava, red-hot lava, she says, results in a superior taste, besides the obvious advantage of being easier to handle.

    In addition, it’s the whole plant that should be used. Just the leaves? Might as well just drink the hot water. No, no, the entire plant — trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, roots, insects, and teeth–— gently covered in molten rock, bursting into flames with a roar of sparks, and allow to burn for a few moments before consuming. With a croissant. (If you know what you are doing you use the burning plant to bake the croissant.)

    May contain incinerated nuts and roasted gluten.

  38. thecalmone says

    Tea is great. I mean, it must be – I work with an English engineer who drinks thirteen cups of the stuff per day.

  39. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @LyleX, #40:

    If your tea is lukewarm, it’s not the tea that fucked up.


  40. cartomancer says

    Perhaps, in a rare attempt at North-South solidarity, we can at least agree that there is no such thing as the Midlands?

    Wherever the dividing line is (Banbury, it’s Banbury), nobody gets to avoid picking a side by pretending to be “from the Midlands”. All English people are either mincing, effete Southerners who enjoy hunting the poor for sport or lumpen, coal-slathered Northerners who live in a hole in the road.

    Whether you’re from the pudding vats of Newcastle-upon-Trent or the dripping spires of Cambridge-upon-Thames, surely we can all agree on that? That and our common dislike for the Welsh, obviously.

  41. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    The only tea worth the bother is Turkish tea, which, as it happens, is almost, but not quite entirely, like coffee*.

    As for coffee, roasted properly (tending toward dark, depending on the beans, but definitely not burnt) and at the right strength, it should be drunk black. The only exception is when you’re in Spain and order café con leche for breakfast, or a cortado in the afternoon.

    *Chinese tea is acceptable too, but that’s an entirely different drink.

  42. chigau (違う) says

    Is anyone charting all the DddeeeeeepppRrriiiffftttsss that are emerging and coalescing and morphing and farting on this thread?
    I bet the diagram would make a nice quilt pattern.

  43. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Well, if it’s any consolation, Alcoholic Hop Tea doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. >.>

  44. rq says

    Tea in the morning (any black tea will do, milk and honey), coffee kick in the afternoon (milk, no sugar). I’m not particular about the pedigree or preparation of either, just so long as my tea is bitter and at least lukewarm (who drinks hot beverages, wtf??, leave it out on the desk for a while…) and the coffee is less bitter than my tea (best with whipping cream, but my conscience objects to the daily ingestion of so much milkfats).

  45. graham says

    “the previous wave of immigrants, the Normans”. Keep up PZ. There have been many, many waves of immigrants since then; as my Irish great grand father could have attested, having immigrated to Liverpool at the time of the Potato Famine.

    And the Guardian moved south and ceased to be the Manchester Guardian over forty years ago. I’d write more but this cuppa tea aint gonna drink itself ;-)

  46. strangerinastrangeland says

    I saw a very fitting cartoon recently, called “Anarchy in the U.K.”. One stick figure asks another stick figure “Do you want a cup of tea”, and the other answers “No”.

  47. Crimbly says

    This Guardian article was published in the halycon days of 2015.

    These days I think the Guardian has more pressing issues to blather on about.

  48. says

    Remember: all tea served in the US tastes as though the water was scooped out of Boston Harbour before being slightly warmed and then placed before you next to a ‘tea’-bag of floor scrapings to which it has not yet been introduced.

  49. Wrath Panda says

    mcgruffalo @60:
    And the South begins at Tebay.

    As a man born and raised in the blasted wastelands of the NE of England and Cumbria, I wholeheartedly endorse this statement. Tebay also just happens to be the last, best place where one can sample a decent Cumberland sausage, prior to heading to the “South”.

    Also living now in Mancunia, it pisses my colleagues off royally when I describe them as Southerners!

  50. Gregory Greenwood says

    KG @ 73;

    Who ever wrote that book clearly simultaneously loves Dune but is also able to poke a little friendly fun at it. I have never read The Tea Must Flow myself, but from my familiarity with both the book series and the 1984 movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s master work, I can hazard a guess at some of the dialogue in this parody…

    The Tea extends life. The Tea expands consciousness. The Tea is vital to the sacred rite of biscuit dunking…

  51. davidc1 says

    @73 .Hi ,followed the link ,followed it to Toby Frost ,then to ebay where i bought a cheap second hand copy .
    Is it as funny as the Discworld novels ?

  52. blf says

    Is it as funny as the Discworld novels?

    That’s like asking if molten Helium powers witches — the words, even in that order, make sense (some squinting may be desired), but the overall semantic is so confused it generates more power than strapping some buttered-toast (butter-side up) to the back of a cat.

    (I have not read, or even heard of, The Tea Must Flow!, before, so the above is, well, very open to interpretation. Peas may be involved. Perhaps more interestingly, there seem to be two Toby Frost, the one who wrote that and other “Space Captain Smith” (and other) books, and one who wrote Special Evangelistic Events: The Evangelistic Block Party.)

  53. says

    Just over a year ago, the residents of my street suffered a (relatively minor, all things considered, but still very much not nice at the time for anyone involved) crisis.

    It was then that I discovered that the second-nicest thing in the world is a hard-won cup of tea, brewed under adverse circumstances (in this case, on a camping stove in the bathroom).

    The nicest thing in the world is a hard-won cup of tea, brewed under adverse circumstances by someone else on your behalf.

  54. runswithscissors says

    From where I’m sitting, the South starts at Doncaster.

    Lancs and Yorks are the Midlands.

  55. jack16 says

    Long ago when I visited England I became fond of bangers and mash.

    Does it still exist?


  56. jrkrideau says

    @ 81 jack16
    bangers and mash
    There are samples preserved at Porton Down. According to rumour, you need at least a CL-3 laboratory to handle the stuff.

  57. kaleberg says

    England can take it.

    They used to be a coffee drinking nation. The London Stock Exchange was founded in a COFFEE house, not a tea shop. It took the 1869 coffee blight to change it. Let’s just hope the next great British drink isn’t kombucha.

  58. KG says

    I’m not a great fan of the Discworld novels (I’ve read 4 or 5, and my verdict is “OK, mildly amusing, but what’s all the fuss about?”). I’d say Toby Frost’s stuff is about the same, but I thought this particular joke was a good one.

    Gregory Greenwood@75,
    Tea doesn’t extend life or expand consciousness, but when combined with cows’ milk, it produces moral fibre, essential to the maintenance of the British Space Empire.

  59. KG says


    It’s true, I think, that coffee was a popular drink in Britian earlier than tea, but certainly by around 1800, tea was being imported (and drunk) in increasing quantities, and the East India Company’s need to sell something to China to offset the huge amounts of tea it bought from there was a major cause of the Opium Wars. And now I think about it, the British Parliament wouldn’t have bothered to pass the Tea Act of 1773 if the American colonists hadn’t been drinking quite a lot of tea.

  60. davidc1 says

    I recently read a book called “All the tea in China ” it tells how a British plant hunter stole tea plants and seeds! so they could be grown in India .

  61. khms says

    You people talking about North and South are terribly confused. Clearly, the North extends from the southern border of Münster (which city I currently live in) until the Northern border of Germany (just North of Flensburg, where I was born). Which means the Brits (like my Danish relatives) mostly live in the area known as the Arctic, except for @rewboss who lives in Southern Germany.

    As for tea, assuming we’re talking black, clearly East Frisian tea is the thing. As for coffee … let’s just not. In general, though, I recommend hot cacao.

  62. davidc1 says

    Just picked up on the title of this article ,no such thing as the British Empire any more ,been replaced by the Commonwealth .
    @88 In 1990 while planning a motorbike trip around Germany i bought a map of Germany ,near Flensburg there was a town marked as Damp2000 .
    Since discovering the joys of Google maps i see it has been renamed ,which is a shame .

  63. blf says

    You people talking about North and South are terribly confused. Clearly, the North extends from the southern border of Münster…

    They are (mostly (probably)) Brits, and therefore either making it up on-the-fly, or else using some British standard (presumably BSI), instead of the common Eurostandard. The Münster standard is one of the Eurostandards, set, as I recall, by the Latitude And Tropic Terminology Euroboard (LATTE). It’s also, probably, the most popular, except (of course) in France, which has three standards: Aix-en-Provence, Paris, and Corse (probably Bastia, but I’m not sure).

    However, LATTE are only responsible for latitude-determined terms. Longitude-determined terms are the responsibility of The European Area (TEA) group, who also provide several standards.

    As far as I know, LATTE has never incorporated any BIS. TEA has yet to agree whether to use Greenwich or Paris as the prime meridian and so each of its standards comes in two forms (some in more, from back when other meridians were also being considered), each, of course, translated into all of the EU’s official languages.

    As an aside, the “And Tropics” part of LATTE’s name was added to appease the French and others, as a nod towards Réunion, Martinique, Açores, Islas Canarias, and so on.

    Some years ago it was reported the most popular beverage at TEA was coffee, and was tea at LATTE. The BIS spokesperson was too tired to comment without slurring their speech.

  64. DLC says

    Nothing wrong with tea. But then, it must be borne in mind that English tea was invented by a people who conquered most of the world looking for spices and decided they didn’t like any of them.