The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
This decade’s Beatnik BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) offer: a cup of tea, a free piddle, in any order. All for £2. Usually over seventy types of tea, loose leaf mainly.
The exorbitant price of tea in nineteenth century Russia meant that it was the reserve of the aristocracy. At the Beatnik it’s only £2.50 per pot, so it is a very democratic drink and, so long as on the electoral roll, even slobs and tea slurpers are allowed in. Low life who drink coffee are allowed in, though coffee drinkers are subjected to ridicule (note that no cappuccino, latte or Botticelli are served here, just a plain filter coffee).
Thirteen interesting and likely facts about tea:
1/ Victorian Britain became accustomed to taking tea in the afternoon, along with cucumber sandwiches and Battenberg cake, and this custom was soon established in the workplace. Queen Victoria turned out to be a bit of a frump, all crinoline and crusty, but the Whig Interpretation of History, the middle class version of Marxism that maps out the inevitable and the progressive (pace the ban of fox hunting, tobacco in public spaces, the Grunwick dispute and the halting of Trade Unions, the otherwise inexplicable decline in musical popularity of Flanders and Swann), holds her to be a leading light with a hair bun, a template for civilization.
2/ Tea houses were banned by Mao Tse Tung. Tea houses were renowned dens of iniquity. It is a well-known fact that most Tories drink tea. It follows therefore that all Tories are iniquitous.
3/ Tea drinking develops bladder control and is morally upright. Statistical proof is that tea consumption per head increased steadily throughout the eighteenth century as convicts were sent to Australia, and no criminal has ever asked for tea before climbing the scaffold for their immorality (and they usually wet themselves on such occasion).
4/ A choice of teacup is vital, it says much about one’s personality. Sherlock Holmes wrote a monograph on the choice of tea cup, determining that floral pattern was more appropriate after midday, fluted white crockery best at breakfast. Freud didn’t have much to say on the matter, which is good, since anybody who believes the bunk that he peddled should be horse whipped and made to drink pallid (sexually repressed, held back in the anal stage of its development) Yorkshire Tea which, along with Pontefract cake and James Herriott, is the worst export from north of the Pennines and should be legislated against.
5/ Mugs are despicable and should never be used to drink tea, and their use is linked probably to venereal disease and halitosis.
6/ The sport of dunking (or the balancing in a cup of tea of a Hobknob or McVitie Rich Tea, the biscuit brands associated most at the professional end of the sport) is an art form. This shop is to launch a campaign to assimilate it competitively in the Olympics.
7/ Biscuit dunking can be habit forming, even addictive, and this shop has a reputation for harbouring the worst afflicted (known technically as Chain Dunkers). Ginger Nuts are the choice of the hardcore, they appear strong but give way without warning, and like the Curly Wurly of the 1970s offer the heady and provocative thrill of brittleness and elasticity side by side, are apt to malfunction like a baby without a nappy, offer the requisite amount of adrenalin, and demand an adroit technique. Like needles, however, Ginger Nuts are never to be shared, not when I’m around anyway.
8/ Tea can be an acquired taste, although the use of sugar (cane sugar is best) can help to mask the natural bitterness of tea. In Russia, North Africa and Egypt, tea is drunk with sugar. The British learned to drink tea in the company of the Manchus, who were great milk drinkers, which explains our appalling habit.
9/ Some prefer lemon to milk, although lemon can destroy the taste of the tea and a slice of orange may be preferred to soften the strong flavour of tea. Besides which, lemon corrodes teeth enamel, it is diuretic, causes canker sores, heart burn, headaches and erectile dysfunction, is linked to Alzheimer’s, is held unsafe during pregnancy and lactation, causes a lack of spending on the National Health Service, stampedes cattle and has been the major cause of civil war in at least four sovereign states. Renowned drinkers of tea with lemon were Idi Amin, Lenin, Rasputin and Keith Chegwin.
10/ Teabags? The tea is often of the poorest grade and is crushed in the teabag, as there is no room for infusion, and the paper inhibits the subtlety of tea’s flavours (and has often been treated with chlorine). Muslin teabags are a better choice.
11/ Tea is harvested in the same way all over the world. It is the young, tender shoots and unopened leaf buds at the end of the branches that contain the most caffeine, tannins, vitamins and minerals and have the most delicate flavour. Once harvested, the tea leaves are processed in factories often built on the plantation itself. It is during this process that the different types acquire their characteristics and personality. Oolong teas, for instance, are only slightly fermented; green teas are unfermented; Earl Grey was manufactured originally for cheapskates who wouldn’t buy the more expensive China tea, has been infused with oil of bergamot and been pissed in (well in this shop anyway).
12/ Next to water, tea is the most commonly consumed drink in the world.
13/ It has been argued that tea (using boiled water) and beer (using hops, a drink made also with boiled water) were the vital ingredients behind the Industrial Revolution: their consumption kept our working class healthy and abundant, free of disease. Note that all other EU member countries drank other stuff, Eurowater and Butter Mountain Squash. It should be noted that Tony Benn was a feted tea drinker, Nigel Farage a splendid connoisseur of beer, and both were anti-Common Market; make of that what you will; just shows that if you are a dippy, progressive liberal, life will kick you in the teeth just when you thought you’d made sense of it.
The Whig Interpretation of History in action, the apogee of
English greatness: Flanders & Swann, The Gas Man Cometh