A nice cup of tea

George Orwell wrote two good food/drink related essays, “In defense of English cooking,” (1945) and “A nice cup of tea” (1946).  Both are short (they first appeared in newspapers), highly opinionated, and well worth reading.

You don’t have to live long in the UK to know that the Brits—or at least many Brits—take their tea seriously.  I remember one complaining that he had been served “shamrock tea” (tea made from the equivalent of three leaves), and another telling me that he liked his tea “so strong that you could trot a mouse on it.”

In his weekly essay at Slate, Christopher Hitchens, who’s still going strong, weighs in with “How to make a decent cup of tea.”  He pretty much concurs with Orwell but gets in a few (well deserved) swipes at how Americans proffer this beverage.

Hitchens recounts an incident in which John Lennon informs Yoko Ono that, when making tea with a tea bag, you must first fill the cup with hot water and only then add the tea bag.  Hitch is appalled:

I simply hate to think of the harm that might result from this. It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to. It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter.

I can’t abide tea bags unless they contain herbal tea.  When I must brew a single cup I use one of these infusers from Upton Tea company:

Yes, I know it’s not as good as leaves in a pot, but at least I can use decent loose tea.

A nice cup of tea without a biscuit or two is woefully lacking, like a pastrami sandwich without mustard.  The combination of tea and biscuit is the subject of one of my favorite food-related sites: A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Its strength is the presentation (and its ratings) of British biscuits (“cookies” to Americans) in all their glory. Orwell mentioned the superiority of British biscuits in his essay (my emphasis):

First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake (such as you used to get at Buzzard’s before the war), short-bread and saffron buns. Also innumerable kinds of biscuit, which exist, of course, elsewhere, but are generally admitted to be better and crisper in England.

When I visit the UK I cram down as many biscuits as I can; they really are better there. My favorites include Boasters, fig rolls, biscuits containing pieces of candied ginger, and Garibaldis, sometimes known as “squashed fly biscuits” for their flattened raisins:

McVities Boasters, containing raisins and big hunks of chocolate, are impossibly luxurious.  Even I can’t eat more than a couple:

The combination of fig and flaky covering, as seen in America’s Fig Newton (named after Newton, Massachusetts) is inspired. But Brits do it better in their “fig rolls,” made by many companies.  The pastry covering is better, and also thicker.  Its a substantial biscuit.  And some versions have the fig completely enclosed with pastry.  Here’s a typical fig roll from the UK:

But my absolute favorite, the King of the Biscuit, is McVities chocolate digestive biscuits (dark chocolate, please).  Oh, for four or five of these right now:

They’re ideal for dunking in coffee or tea, which softens the crunch a bit and slightly melts the chocolate.

85 Comments

  1. Posted January 6, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    White chocolate digestives are nice too, if a little on the sweet side.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      You should have Rich Tea!

      • Dominic
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        After due consideration, I plump for ginger nuts (I have the gene) & custard creams. Though I do eat just about anything that moves…

    • Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      White chocolate is an abomination.

      Dark chocolate digestives are nice, but stem ginger cookies are my favourite British biscuit.

      As for tea, I confess that I generally like my black teas adulterated with spices (cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, black pepper, cloves, cardamom), and while I will concede that looseleaf is better in general, I have had the unfortunate experience of being in some US restaurants that affect to serve good tea, but have ruined everything by having water that is not hot enough, and/or too many leaves for the quantity of water, and/or serving cream instead of milk (at a few places, when I asked for milk for my tea, they have brought me a glass of milk).

  2. Posted January 6, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see that you’re a fan of the greatest biscuit in the world: dark chocolate digestives.

    Yes, I got hooked on tea after my first visit here. I’m afraid I prefer it “stewed” a bit longer than most Brits do, but otherwise I’m fairly orthodox.

    At home we make most Kenyan or Assam loose teas. At work I drink mostly green teas. And yes: an infuser is the way to go for a single cup serving.

  3. Bill
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Ah, dark chocolate digestives! Or ‘Penguins’ – chocolate biscuits with chocolate cream in between, which, with the right handling can be used to suck tea from your mug like a straw. ‘Timtams’ – the Australian equivalent actually work better at this. It livens up staff meetings I tell you.

    • Blondin
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      You beat me to it. I wish to add that Arnott’s Tim Tam biscuits are now available in Canada. Oh, joy!

  4. SWH
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    According to Stephen Fry (and who am I to contradict him) the digestive was so named for it’s calming effects on the gut – apparently marketing it as the “anti-flatulance biscuit” was not considered good practice.

    Chocolate Hobnobs make an acceptable although different alternative. English biscuits seem to be becoming more widely available in the US over the last few years. Even penetrating the international aisles of suburban Nashville supermarkets.

  5. donK
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    McVities Chocolate Digestives are by far my favorite as well. Their only fault is they are difficult to share. Get your own.

  6. Dominic
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I have a comment aimed at (right wing) Americans – you cannot make a decent cup of tea by steeping the leaves in Boston harbour!

    Proper tea is theft!

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Tea leaf = thief…

  7. Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    McVities! Mah favorites! You can get those in America? I buy them when they’re on sale here in Japan, but I don’t ever remember seeing them in the US…(I’d remember if I’d eaten them before).

    But you’ve not had tea ’til you’ve sat on your feet seiza for 15 minutes while a lovely Japanese woman sloooooowly puts the matcha…just so…into the tea bowl…and adds the hot water…just so…and picks up the chasen…just so… (you see where this is going ;-))

    Now I want to see everybody stand straight up after you’ve all been sitting on the floor, legs tucked, on your feet for fifteen minutes. Jouzu! :-))

    • Bryan
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      The local chain supermarket has about half an aisle with “international” food – there’s about 10 feet of shelf space for Britain. They have McVities. Also Lucozade and I can’t remember what other varieties of British snacks. It always reminds of London.

  8. John Laughlin
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I learned to drink loose leaf teas in Taiwan many years ago while serving in the military. I do not drink coffee, so hot tea has filled the void for almost fifty years. There are several excellent web sites from which loose leaf teas can be ordered:Rishi; SpecialTeas; Mightyleaf; Adagio, to mention a few, (my favorite tea, if you like really strong dark teas, is Pu Erh. But be warned: it has a very earthy aroma and taste. If you enjoy peaty scotch you will probably like it; otherwise….).
    I also enjoy infusing the loose leaves in a handmade Japanese clay teapot (Rishi has an excellent selection). Boiling water is essential for black teas but not green, which needs to be only steaming hot. I have tried to make tea preparation and drinking a daily ritual in my home. I find it extremely civilizing and relaxing. As a general rule, I never order hot tea in restaurants unless they have very special teas (loose leaf in a silk tea bag, for example). It is only my opinion, of course, but I am convinced if world-over, at 4 PM local times, everybody stopped for a cup of good hot tea and a “biscuit” the world might be a safer place.

    • Simon
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Agree completely, even the samurai would have tea with their enemies.
      A sacred moment allowing humanity to rise to the surface.

  9. Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    As with coffee and alcohol, I enjoy tea, but I don’t care for what the combination of caffeine and theobromine do to me. So, I partake, but rarely.

    When I do, one of my favorites is lapsang souchong, but pu erh, tiguanyin, jasmine, and gunpowder all find their way into the pot as well. I’m also fond of genmaicha, but I don’t drink it often enough to warrant frequent purchase of green tea, most of which will go stale before I drink it.

    Of course, this is the time of year for hot drinks. I drink a lot of chamomile tea, and a fair amount of fennel tea. Fennel tea is actually quite pleasant; just bruise the seeds in a mortar and pestle, put in a teapot, cover with boiling water, and steep. About 1/4 teaspoon per 8 ounces of water is right, but you can double that without getting obnoxious.

    A freeze over the weekend knocked off five of the six lemons on the almost-dead lemon tree I inherited with the house. They’re about the size of key limes. So, every day this week I’m making a pot of tea with two cups of water; a half teaspoon of fennel; a teaspoon of chamomile; one lemon, halved, squeezed, and left in the pot; and a half a teaspoon of saguaro honey. I normally drink both tea and coffee “black,” but the purpose of this particular exercise is a harvest celebration of the lemons — and they need the honey to balance out the acid. It’s a pretty tasty drink.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Ben: I agree with you on your preferences in black tea.

      I also agree with Hitchens that it’s tough to get a good cuppa in the US. but that’s not too much of an issue for me becasue, though I enjoy tea, I much prefer coffee.

      And I adulterate either with cream and sugar. To each his own, I say.

      I find that drinking coffee black (something I rarely do, only if no alternative is available) is rather like drinking beer with waaaaaay too much hops in the brew. In short, terribly unbalanced. In all our drinks (at least partly) based on bitter substances (beer (hops or spruce or whathaveyou), wine (tannins), coffee and tea (whatever makes them bitter, tannins for sure in tea, probably roasting for coffee), chocolate (itself), and spirits (e.g. Scotch and other whiskys: barrel-derived tannins) we balance the bitter with the sweet.

      Not to say some might not like the full-on bitterness, and that’s fine. But the great majority of people find that balance is the key and it is the goal of most makers.

      What I think is silly is the pose that people who enjoy those full-on bitters strike. That somehow liking that flavor profile is somehow more pure, aesthetic, macho, or manly. That’s simple bollocks! As above: To each his own (and: There’s no accouting for taste). It may not be your cup of tea; but no one is asking you to drink it. Vive la différence!

      • Mike from Ottawa
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        Considering there’s a good deal of variation in human sensitivity to bitterness, I just like to remind them their fondness for bitterness is due to their being deficient in the ability to fully taste the bitterness.

      • Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        In many culinary cases, you’re absolutely right: the goal is to balance bitter or sour with sweet. Most people seem to like something in the range of a 3:1 sweet:sour ratio, though there’s a great deal of variation.

        There are some delightful coffee- and tea-based beverages that are sweetened. I must admit a great fondness for Turkish coffee, for example. And, when I was a teenager, Dad made a mocha java — mixed coffee and hot chocolate — that was simply amazing.

        As far as straight coffee and tea goes, however, I’ve found that the good stuff isn’t actually bitter. If it’s bitter, yes, it needs to be adulterated with sugar (and perhaps other ingredients). But those sweetened drinks are far superior when made with good, well-prepared coffees and teas that aren’t bitter to begin with.

        Even with good ingredients, it’s easy to mess up the preparation and create something unpalatable without sugar. But, properly prepared, even super-strong coffees and teas aren’t actually bitter.

        Lastly, I’d point out a parallel with capsaicin. Some people love it; others hate it. It can be used to cover a multitude of sins, and that’s often exactly how it’s used. But, done right, even in heavy doses, it merely adds another dimension to the dish. And, curiously enough, it usually becomes bitter (as well as hot) when done worng….

        Cheers,

        b&

  10. sdc42
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    You are aware the McVities biscuits are easily sourced in the US right? One particularly convenient source is: http://www.amazon.com/Mcvities-Digestives-Dark-Plain-Chocolate/dp/B000EZUBVE/ref=pd_bxgy_gro_text_c

  11. Phil Wardle
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I’m an avid reader of your site (though I have never commented)and feel that as a Brit who drinks between 6-8/day, I should mention that a cup of tea should always be drunk from a china cup/mug.
    It really is the king of all beverages , even the toddlers here drink cold tea from their bottles !!

  12. Supertec
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Wonderful as chocolate digestives are, they are useless for the purposes of tea dunking. I side with Dominic above – Rich Teas, or possibly Ginger biscuits, are genetically engineered to be perfect for dunking, although like all biscuits, will still disintegrate in tea if you’re not careful.

    On milk in tea – it’s essential for me, as is sugar, but the proportions can be difficult to get right. And tea should always, always be drunk from a mug, not a cup. You haven’t experienced true tea, IMHO, unless it’s in a back street greasy spoon, washing down a full English breakfast.

    • JBlilie
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      You haven’t experienced true tea, IMHO, unless it’s in a back street greasy spoon, washing down a full English breakfast.

      Like most drinks: Best experienced in its own natural environment! (Retsina springs to mind ….)

    • Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Ginger nuts are indeed superior for dunking in tea. They are a favourite treat to take along on long walks, with a thermos flask of tea.

  13. Matthew Cobb
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Given your irritation with the cladists, Jerry, what do you make of Adam Smith’s discussion of whether the jaffa cake is a biscuit, using cladistic analysis? Read it here:

    http://www.plesiosauria.com/dinobiscuits/biscuit.htm

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Ah – EU legislation – is the Jaffa a biscuit or a cake? The bureaucrats had fun with that. I think they decided a biscuit, if left out, gets soft, while a cake left out get hard.

      Which reminds me, does anyone remember Alexei Sayle on The Young Ones (it was on British TV in 1984), talking of revolutionary biscuits? –

      ‘It’s quite interesting, you know, the number of biscuits that are named after revolutionaries. You’ve got your Garibaldi, of course, you’ve got your Bourbons, then of course you’ve got your Peek Freens Trotsky Assortment.

      [sings] “Revolutionary biscuits of Italy / Rise up out of your box! / You have nothing to lose but your wafers / Yum yum yum yum yum!” ‘

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      First, although I am irritated with SOME cladists, I embrace the principle of cladism as a very useful addition to phylogenetics, though it’s not the be-all and end-all.

      More important, the issue of whether Jaffa cakes are biscuits has been definitely settled by the website I mention above:

      Q. Are Jaffa cakes biscuits.

      A. No, no the’re not. Apart from being called cakes they obviously have a sponge base. Granted they appear to be some kind of luxury biscuit being chocolate covered and shipping in a box.

      Biscuits and cakes are not to be classified in a cladistic scheme–they don’t evolve! The Jaffa cake is a cake because we treat it like cake!

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Her Majesties Revenue and Customs tried to treat Jaffa Cakes as biscuits, since chocolate covered biscuits are liable to VAT in the UK, whereas cakes, chocolate covered or not, are not.

        McVities baked a giant Jaffa Cake, and were able to convince an appeals tribunal that Jaffa Cakes are really cakes.

      • Mike from Ottawa
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        You might use cladistic analysis of cake and biscuit recipes, which do undergo reproduction (albeit not through their own agency) and which are subject to ‘mutations’ and selection. You’d have parts of the ‘tree’ that would be more lattice-like because recipes can take in ideas or ingredients from other not closely related recipes (like bacteria exchanging genes).

        Of course, the question is whether it would work and that could only be known by applying the technique to actual cake and biscuit recipes and comparing the results to the results of historical research and see if they produce the same ‘phylogenies’.

      • Matthew Cobb
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        “Biscuits and cakes are not to be classified in a cladistic scheme–they don’t evolve!”

        Hmm, Professor Coyne, I am no culinary historian, but I think you are wrong! Biscuits (and cakes) *do* evolve, although their pattern of evolution might involve more punctuated equilibrium than either of us has a taste for, but they certainly change over time..

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 6, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          You know what I mean! They don’t evolve by splitting, so that ancestral traits are passed on to descendants. That’s the basis of cladistic reconstruction of phylogenies. And since that doesn’t happen with biscuits, using cladistic methodology to classify them is a useless endeavor.

    • SWH
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      That brought back some memories of things I haven’t seen in a long time. Now I want coffee and a Nice biscuit.

      Cladistics can’t solve everything, sometimes tax lawyers are needed. I was under the impression that this biscuit/cake debate was settled (for Jaffa Cakes) in a dispute between McVitie’s and the British government on how these were to be taxed (as cakes – which apparently are or were zero rated and chocolate biscuits which are taxed). In the end the finding was for the manufacturer – they start off soft and go hard when stale – apparently a biscuit goes in the opposite direction. Only a binary distinction, chocolate biscuit or cake; tax or no tax was allowed – the pseudobiscuit category would have required partial taxation – with inevitable consequences.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Smith has partyrings grouped with pink wafers? No no no! They have hard icing & holes on hard biscuits. Wafers are pink & soft – it’s like putting sea cucumbers in with shrimps!

  14. Helen Wise
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Tea is undrinkable anywhere but home. Elsewhere, it is too weak. It is not possible to brew a good cup of tea with the quantity found in a tea bag.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Also it depends on your water. In London the water is very hard, & as chief ‘beverage facilitator’ at work (tea boy) I often use hard water tea from Yorkshire Tea http://www.yorkshiretea.co.uk/#

      • Bill
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Yarkshire tea f’Yarkshire watter

  15. Veronica Abbass
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Canadians, especially those in Canada’s Atlanic provinces, are very particular about their tea.

    Red Rose Tea is a popular brand. I remember “Red Rose’s old commercials [that]introduced the catchphrase, “Only in Canada, you say? Pity…” (The catchphrase was transformed by Canadian popular culture to, “Only in Canada, eh? Pity…”)”

    See wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Rose_Tea

    • Tulse
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Red Rose is certainly popular in Canada, but it really is just a standard low-quality commercial bag tea. There is nothing remarkable about it.

      I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but there’s been a renaissance of tea shops in my city (Toronto), with multiple outlets for high-quality loose leaf tea, and some offering cafe seating. There is one very close to my home, where I now spend an inordinate amount of time.

      However, these shops have practically no British flavour to them, run primarily by folks of Indian and Filipino background. That said, Toronto’s English roots do support traditional High Tea at many of the tonier hotels.

      • Posted January 6, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        My parents (Yorkshire natives both) thought those commercials were silly, because it wasn’t really all that good. However, they still *drank* Red Rose at home, so they can’t have thought it was all that bad, either (or else they were too cheap to buy anything better, but they never struck me that way, so I really don’t know what they were thinking).

        Me, I was an adult before I learned to like tea as a regular (and now my preferred) beverage. Usual brew is Spicy Chai, with a bit of milk (yes, I’m sure some purists are horrified by that).

        • Posted January 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          Weird, I was introduced to chai at the Shambhala Centre in Halifax, and wouldn’t dream of having it without milk.

          As to Red Rose, of course the commercials were silly. Everyone thought so, and they were right, but it sold a lot of tea.

          I was working next to a Tim’s in Halifax when they switched from bags to steeped tea. The way people carried on, I was half expecting a riot.

          • Posted January 7, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            Having shared countless pots of chai with Eamon, I think his point is not that there is anything unusual about drinking spicy chai with milk, but rather that tea snobs are horrified by chai’s “adulteration” of tea with spices.

            As for Timmy’s “steeped tea”, the few times I have had it it always tasted rather stewed to me, so I generally opt for their bag teas instead (their chai is drinkable, as is their English Breakfast).

            [And yes, I am aware that “chai” just means tea. Next time I am in Los Angeles, I will go visit the La Brea Tar Pits and drink chai tea.]

            • Screechy Monkey
              Posted January 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              Do so while watching The Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) on television….

    • Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I come from rural Nova Scotia, and I can attest to the tradition of putting three or four bags of Red Rose in a pot, setting it on the back of the wood-burning stove and letting it steep for hours, occasionally refilling the water and/or adding another bag as needed.

      You can be as snobbish as you want about your tea, and look far, far down your nose at those awful people who don’t despise tea in a bag, but I’ll pay it no mind. I like loose tea as much as the next girl (lapsang or assam, please), but those old sachets are part of my culture and no uppity snob is going to dislodge that.

  16. Jean K
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Good tea = PG Tips. Available in gigantic boxes of 240 bags (with lovely pyramid shape) at big Indian grocery stores.

  17. ErikaM
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I’m a fan of Chinese and Japanese green teas. Nothing beats good loose-leaf green tea infused in a gaiwan or kyusu. And please, no boiling water! Green teas need to be infused at about 180 degrees or the tea will be bitter. Top quality green is near impossible to find here in the Midwest; my favorite sources are hibiki-an.com (for Japanese teas) and sevencups.com (for Chinese teas).

    Of course, matcha is in a category all it’s own. Mmmmmnn.

  18. Matt Penfold
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I love chocolate hobnobs, which are like chocolate digestives but a bit more oaty.

    Some people seem to be able to detect chocolate hobnobs from a distance of several hundred yards. Not sure how they do it, but it could make an interesting (and tasty) research project.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      I must also mention shortbread, which must be made with butter!

      One of the easiest biscuits to make yourself, and totally delicious.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Post the recipe – or a link please! mmmm…

        • Matt Penfold
          Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          I will have to list only metric measurements, since that is all the recipe I use gives.

          150g Unsalted butter, softened and cut into small chunks.

          75g Caster Sugar.

          150g Plain flour

          75g Cornflour

          1. Mix butter and sugar in pale and creamy.

          2. Sift in both flours and work into butter/sugar mix using fingers (or a fork) until you have a smooth dough.

          3. Take two sheets of baking parchment and roll out dough between them until about 5mm thick.

          4. Transfer to fridge to chill for about an hour.

          5. Cut out shapes using a biscuit cut of the size and shape of your choosing.

          6. Bake at 170C for about 20 mins, until slightly coloured and just firm.

          7. Remove from baking sheet and place on wire rack to cool. Dust with some caster sugar if desired.

          • Posted January 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

            If you are looking for the volume measurements more common in North American recipes, shortbread is easy – 1 part butter : 2 parts sugar : 4 parts flour (and if you aren’t a purist, you can amend with chunks of ginger, or mini chocolate chips, or poppyseeds and grated lemon peel)

            That being said, I am still scratching my head about why the batch of shortbreads I made here in Ottawa, Canada came out perfect, with a nice sandy texture, while the ones I made a few weeks later in Los Angeles came out tough. (At the moment, my working theory blames a difference in the moisture content of the butter.)

            • Posted January 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

              OOOPS – that should have been 1 sugar: 2 butter: 4 flour (no that’s not the source of my recipe fail)

            • dches
              Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

              When switching countries, you not only have to take the different butter into account, but sometimes the moisture content of the flour and the size of the sugar granules. Between US and UK these make a difference not sure about US and Canada.

  19. D'oh!
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I’m sure tea purists will scoff, but my favorite tea maker for loose leaf tea is the Perfect Tea Maker from Teavana. It is a large plastic mug with a fine mesh bottom that is sealed off by the base when the tea maker is sitting on your counter. You throw the tea leaves into the infuser, pour hot water in and let it brew. When it is ready, you simply set the tea maker on top your mug. This opens the bottom and the tea, sans leaves, drains into your mug. About as easy as it gets and you get all the benefits of brewing loose leaf tea in a pot.

  20. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Earl Grey tea, no milk, slice of lemon. Tea to sit down and think with.

    Yorkshire Tea or PG Tips, preferably in a pint mug, fuel for the busy person.

  21. Matt Penfold
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I cannot remember who it was, but a psychologist once, only half jokingly, suggested one of the reasons the British had such a large empire was because when things started going wrong, rather than rushing around like a headless chicken, they put the kettle on and made a cup of tea.

    I do know that during the Falklands war an Argentinian who had been taken prisoner near Goose Green realised the British were going to win after seeing the Paras stop and make a cuppa before carrying on with attack.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      In Asterix in Britain, the Romans win all the battles because the Britons take a break for a cup of hot water. Asterix introduces them to tea.

    • Marella
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      That’s what three hundred years of empire building teaches you, there’s always time for a cup of tea! ROFL.

  22. NoJoy
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Dominic, from Mary Poppins: “As the ship lay anchored in Boston Harbor, a party of the colonists dressed as red Indians boarded the vessel, behaved very rudely, and threw all the tea overboard. This made the tea unsuitable for drinking. Even for Americans.”

  23. Fred Nurke
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    No discussion of tea and biscuits is complete without Peter Kay:

  24. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    A good cup of tea is impossible. Tea itself is disgusting and it doesn’t matter what you do to it, you cannot make a drinkable beverage.
    Coffee rules O.K.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Bleh, who want to drink burnt bean juice? Stewed leaves FTW!

      • Dominic
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Gentlemen, calm down! Can’t we settle this over a nice cup of… oh dear, well a beer then? When I went on holiday to the USSR in 1981, we were in Moldavia & the water went off so we made Russian tea with cheap Russian ‘champagne’ in a Samovar!

        • Marella
          Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Yuck, I hate beer! ;-)

          • Dominic
            Posted January 7, 2011 at 4:23 am | Permalink

            Water?

  25. Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    What a surprising post. Rather nice to think we in Britain (or, she says hopefully, England) do better than in the USA.

    Not that I like Garibaldi biscuits or fig roles. And chocolate digestives are too sweet. Straight forward McVitie’s digestives are the absolute tops. Not only are they great with tea (dunked? – yuch!) but they are nice with cheese too. (Good excuse.)

    Lucy

  26. Hempenstein
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Put me in the no additives camp for tea and coffee (oil of Bergamot does not count as an additive, nor does smoking the leaves).

    But here’s a question for all the tea connoisseurs – some 30yrs ago the Chinese post-doc across the hall came back from Taiwan with this very expensive green tea. The leaves were only coarsely cut, and it was consumed with some ceremony from what you might call thimbles – not bigger than a shot glass anyway. You didn’t drink it, you sipped it, but that’s misleading – I don’t think there’s a term for the technique of pulling an atomized blast of some microliters of the liquid across your tongue. Like blowing across the surface, only the reverse.

    So the question is, WHAT IS THE NAME OF THIS TEA? For 30yrs I’ve tried to describe it at the occasional tea shop, and nobody seems to know.

    Otherwise, all thumbs up for McV’s regular Digestives, and those ginger biscuits too!

    • Tulse
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      oil of Bergamot does not count as an additive, nor does smoking the leaves

      Whoa, dude, those are seriously the wrong kind of leaves for smoking…

      • Hempenstein
        Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        Oh, sorry, it does sorta read like that, doesn’t it? I meant smoked tea as in Lapsang Souchong.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

          Sorry, Hempenstein, I was just joshin’ ya — I knew what you meant, and I love Lapsang Souchong.

    • Marella
      Posted January 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Oil of bergamot is an abomination, shun, shun!!! Do I drink it or dab it on? Blech.

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      First of all, was it Camelia Sinensis or some other shrub?

  27. Gayle Stone
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Tiring of coffee for the afternoon break,a Scotchman, Tulloch by name, and I would have tea in the cafeteria; bags of course.I would wrap my tea bag around the spoon and sqeeze it. Tulloch would slap me on the wrist with his spoon and tell me not to do that because it would bring out the bitter oil in the leaves. I couldn’t tell the difference but to this day I never squeeze the tea bag!

  28. Richard
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the best biscuit in the world is, IMHO, the Mc Vities Plain Chocolate Digestive. I don’t buy them too often as once I start I find it very difficult to stop. Hmmmm, I think I might just go and grab a couple now ;-)

  29. Simon
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The great restorative of a cup of tea.
    Living in Australia the tea business is almost as highly evolved as in the UK, we can even grow our own tea – in Northern NSW. We cheat & use tea bags, but choose Tetley’s because of the flavour. For a change I drink either Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchon & always black occasionally with a slice of lemon.
    Totally concur about McVities Digestive biscuits, especially covered with dark chocolate or plain with a good English cheese, preferably white Cheshire, Wensleydale or another sharp cheese, maybe even the king of cheeses a ripe Stilton with a good Port.

  30. Doc Bill
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    There is only one: McVities Dark Chocolate Digestive Biscuits.

    Forget the tea. Waste of hot water.

    Nestles Gold Blend Instant Coffee “brewed” in a 250 ml beaker that probably contained NaOH and traces of cadmium and cobalt, tempered with bottled milk of dubious origin strained for “bits.”

    I think it was the chelating ability of McVities biscuits that kept me alive.

  31. Posted January 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Tea Poem by Lu Torng, 1835
    First cup souses lips and throat;
    Second cup relieves loneliness and worries;
    Third cup burgeons thoughts and words;
    Fourth cup flushes out complaints and anger;
    Fifth cup cleans muscles and bones;
    Sixth cup purifies heart and soul;
    Seventh cup may be declined:
    It will fly you like a kite.

  32. Posted January 6, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    ah.. those colonial musings about an exotic drink…

    Coming from Munnar (Kerala, India), where some of the best tea grows , I can’t understand why people make so much fuss about how to make good tea. Yes, boiling leaf in water gives you good tea. So does straining boiling water through the saggy filter (ah the sound of the samoar).
    The quality of tea in Kerala tea shops is actually measured by length. The length of the unbroken stream when the tea is transferred from one glass to another.
    But, you can make equally wonderous tasting tea just by using a cup of 2% milk, two tea bags (get the one on sale, ideally black) and two minutes in the microwave.
    Trust me.. (and this is an appeal from authority). My ancestors gave it to you!

    And for your viewing pleasure, this is how you make a 5′ tea.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 4:27 am | Permalink

      A tall drink indeed! Have not got the space in my kitchen to try that at home!

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      I drank a lot of tea when I worked in Tamil Nadu — but no matter how you asked for it, it always came with lots of milk and 2 sugars. (Same for coffee)

  33. MadScientist
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    No no no, they *think* they know their tea. However, you need to visit India, China, and Japan to see people who really do know their tea. It’s funny how the British Empire included India for so long and yet they know so little of tea. Don’t get me started on “Lady Grey”.

  34. Ana
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    If I may bragg a little (and I so love to), tea happened to be brought to Britain by the Portuguese princess Catherine and her court. The British adopted the tradition so fervently they have kept it in better shape than ourselves! – even though here in Portugal you’ll find no one lives without the mid-afternoon stop for a snack, and some (like myself) have fortunatelly been raised with tea-brewing habits, expresso coffee invaded our country in the end of the 19th century with such effficiency it is now rare to find who prefers tea.

  35. justsearching
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Proper Digestives are great, and yes, dark chocolate is definitely the best flavor. I’ve only been able to buy knock-off brands where I am, and none of them quite capture the original taste.

  36. BillC
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    My mother, back in the fifties, always kept a tin of what looked like the garibaldis. I have no idea as to what they were called, here in the states, but they were a favorite of us kids and we always looked forward to a cup of tea and a few of these after lunch. This picture is the first that I’ve seen of them since then. I’m no purist and I have her to thank for that – I enjoy Madelines and biscotti (The Italians do know a thing or two about biscuits.)

  37. Posted December 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Peek Frean digestives are better than McVities, and dark chocolate IS best. Beware Family Digestives, which have a fake milk chocolate coating. Jaffas are good too. Shortbread has to be made at home, not purchased. When I was little, in Canada, I think Nabisco made squashed flies, and they were called Sultanas on the packet. My grandmother used to get Playbox biscuits somewhere. It’s not that they tasted so good, but they had brightly-coloured hard glazes, and toys stencilled on in hard white frosting on top. Cadbury chocolate fingers are wonderful too.

    I really miss Eccles cakes. But I’ve got a good teapot and some Lapsang Soochong leaves, and it’s chilly out all the sudden. Thanks for the article.


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