Everything stops for tea

KEITH Suddaby gave an interesting talk to Morpeth Rotary Club on the sometimes confrontational and fractious story of tea.

As a retired Co-op General Manager, and until 2006 joint owner of a tea factory in the North West, he was the right man for the job and left very little out.

His company could manufacture 500,000 tea bags an hour and one of their tea brands for M&S had a blend of 20 to 30 different teas.

A total of 180 million cups of tea a day are drunk in the UK alone, approximately ten million cups for each waking hour. Only Ireland as a nation drinks more cups per head.

Following a tax dispute with Britain in 1773, which had tea taxed at 119 per cent, the ladies of America switched to coffee as an act of refusal ‘to take damnable English tea’. Prime Minister Pitt later brought the tax right down and the consumption of tea in Britain trebled.

Up until then, tea was a favourite contraband for smugglers. At one time 15 per cent of the population was involved in the tea trade, but that included smugglers.

Most developments in tea are because of Britain. We are one of the few countries where most people have a kettle. Having to boil water for tea helped to defeat cholera and typhoid.

We started to have milk in tea so that the porcelain did not crack with the hot water and the UK was the first to have handles on cups.

The renowned fast tea clippers could bring tea from Shanghai in 85 days, but the famous Cutty Sark was not as successful as most people think.

In its first year it lost a mast, in the second year it lost the captain and his dog overboard and in the third year a steamship did the trip via Suez in 29 days, so it was all over.

Several tea plants were taken secretly from China to India so eventually India took over most of the trade.

He finished with a local link, there is only one type of tea used in Earl Grey, it is not a blend but the flavour comes from bergamot oil.

Mr Suddaby was thanked for what was his second talk to the club — the previous one had been about the artistry of the photographer back in 2009.