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Could the humble cup of tea be on the way out?

PUBLISHED: 14:26 17 November 2016

The popularity of tea in the UK has been eclipsed by the consumption of coffee. Picture: Archant

The popularity of tea in the UK has been eclipsed by the consumption of coffee. Picture: Archant

Shocking news for lovers of Britain's national drink: it looks like the humble cup of tea might be on the way out. In news which will horrify the news editor of this newspaper, who drinks gallons of the stuff every day, consumption of tea is plummeting in this country, to the point where a cup of Darjeeling may soon be a curiosity served up only in period-piece chintzy tea-rooms.

Tea consumption fell by 63 per cent between 1974 and 2014, and that trend shows no sign of stopping – and it’s all down to image. Tea is now seen as deeply uncool, old-fashioned and boring; it has largely been deposed by the inexorable rise of its nemesis, coffee.

Part of the reason for this is that those who market coffee have educated and encouraged us to drink better quality brews over the past couple of decades. Whereas in the 1980s a cup of coffee was almost always made with instant granules, we have learned to become connoisseurs of the deep roast, the single estate bean and the espresso crema.

Meanwhile, almost all of the tea we drink in the UK now is made from tea-bags, which in general contain the sweepings from the plantation floor, rather than premium tea leaves. In a world where we are offered a bewildering but beguiling choice of coffee drinks, small wonder that a plain old mug of English breakfast has fallen out of fashion.

Perhaps there is an opening here for someone to come up with a tea-based equivalent of the coffee-pod machine, combining convenience with at least a nod to stepping up the quality. All they would need is a glamorous celebrity in the mould of George Clooney to promote it, and maybe tea could make a comeback.

Tea’s decline has not been helped by the disappearance of the twice-daily workplace tea break, which has largely been replaced by someone in the office popping to the local coffee shop to fetch armfuls of cappuccinos and ristrettos to give the workforce a better mid-afternoon caffeine kick.

I’ll confess to being a coffee drinker rather than a tea drinker, at least ever since I discovered what real coffee tastes like, rather than the evil, bitter horror that is instant coffee. I just can’t get enthused about a muddy brown, insipid cup of tea.

In the late 1980s, the late, great food writer Derek Cooper, then in his 60s, told the New York Times that tea drinkers – and he counted himself amongst their number – were a greying bunch.

Nearly 30 years on it would appear that Britain’s national drink is heading for terminal decline, unless some whizzkid entrepreneur can transform the drink and make it trendy amongst young people again.

Otherwise it may yet go the way of Ovaltine and Horlicks.

Cheers for couples

A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that couples who drink alcohol together have better relationships – so here is another reason to pop that cork when you get home to your loved one this evening.

Apparently couples have better marriages if they both drink than if only one drinks, or than if both partners are teetotal.

The research also found that women were particularly unhappy in their relationship when they were the only drinker, although it doesn’t make clear whether the drink itself is causing this misery, or whether they are hitting the bottle to compensate for having to live with such a killjoy.

Now, although I’m happily married, I’m not going to set myself up as some kind of authority on the secret to a happy relationship, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that getting pie-eyed together is going to cure a fundamentally-flawed relationship.

But there does seem to be a basic truth about the role of food and drink as social glue here.

Those who love food and drink tend to enjoy sitting around the table and sharing the company of like-minded people.

The pleasures of the table are not just confined to what is on the plate; it is just as much about the social aspect of sitting down to a meal together.

And sharing that bottle of wine over dinner could just be the secret of a happy marriage.

I’ll drink to that.

• Andy Newman is passionate about food and drink, a champion of Norfolk’s wonderful produce, and is on a mission to persuade everyone to eat and drink better.

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