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Ode to the white cuppa


Tea, Flickr image by prakharIt started when she gave up sugar in her tea. They had been hearing for years that Australians eat too many sweet things and that sugar was bad for you and they should cut down on it. She didn't just cut down; she gave it up completely.

There was no suggestion that he should do the same, but his well-cultivated Catholic sense of guilt nagged him: he shouldn't be enjoying things while his wife was silently and uncomplainingly doing without. So he followed suit, and after a while — a long while — he didn't really notice.

Then came fat-free milk. She decided that was healthier, while he stubbornly stuck to the old-fashioned kind with hairs in it. Again there was no insinuation that he should follow the good example so unselfishly set, but the guilt and the daily reproach of drinking tea with someone who was cutting out all those triglycerides got to him and he, too, changed to the fat-free milk. It was only then he found out that it was dearer than the proper stuff.

Then she gave up milk in her tea altogether — probably after watching television footage of staggering cows in Britain or maybe it was something she read about anti-oxidants being destroyed by milk. He drew the line there, although he tried the occasional black cuppa while she wasn't looking: it tasted terrible.

Finally, she came back from the dentist and declared that she was giving up tea altogether. The dentist! He told her that all the tea she was drinking was colouring her teeth and if she didn't cut down, then nothing less than twice-daily rinsing with Domestos would get the white back. He also told her it was a diuretic (the tea, not the Domestos), and removed water from the system. So she gave up tea completely and now drinks only water.

Tea is one of the great contributions made to civilisation by the English race. It is true that they don't grow the stuff, and that tea drinking has almost liturgical significance in parts of the Eastern world, but as the rest of us understand it, tea-drinking, small finger delicately raised, is a quintessentially English habit.

That great English bore Samuel Johnson drank it in vast quantities, as recorded by his faithful Boswell who called it by sweet names, 'that elegant and popular beverage' or 'the infusion of that fragrant leaf' being two of his terms of endearment.

And you may recall Alexander Pope in the well-known couplet:

Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey
Dost sometimes counsel take — and sometimes tea.

(That, by the way, is a rhyming couplet, which excuses the poetic Irish for pronouncing it tay.)

The latest thing is that we are told the caffeine in tea is bad for us because it is addictive. After all, the argument goes, if they have decaffeinated coffee (which is little more than cleverly packaged turf dust) why not get scientists to make decaffeinated tea.

You know how science is going about it? They are taking down its genes and interfering with them — replacing one of the existing genes with something else, perhaps fish scales or tomato skins.

There is a puritan streak in today's society which insists that many of the little luxuries that sustained our grandparents to healthy old age are shortening our lives. It is all part of the narcissistic culture of gyms and dieting and celebrity cooks.

For myself, I insist on tea so strong that the mythic restaurant fly wouldn't need the breast stroke but could walk across it. And it must have proper milk. I may not be the most refined of restaurant companions, but it will be cold day in Hades before I allow a dentist to tell me what to drink.

Frank O'SheaFrank O'Shea is a retired teacher. His book Keeping Faith: 40 Years of Marist College Canberra was published in March.

Topic tags: frank o'shea, fat-free milk, sugar, tea



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Existing comments

Frank O'Shea - Thanks for an amusing and oh so true article. I join you in your criticism of the culture of thin,no sugar, no fat, I often wonder about the demeanor of all the elderly who have gone without sweetness and strength to appease doctor; dentist; fashionistas and popular TV. No wonder so many folk are rude and ill tempered.

Rosemary Keenan | 05 November 2008  

There are lots of other dinosaurs around still. Unfortunately they forget how or why or when change might be good for them.

gerard | 05 November 2008  

I agree with Frank! A little bit of sugar (can't stand the subsitutes and don't have to have them) and proper milk. Still can't find exactly how much fat you need to utilise the calcium, but I know I need the latter. And there is still nothing like a really good cup of tea!

Christine Wood | 06 November 2008  

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