Louisa Pearson: ‘I get palpitations when the kettle boils and the electricity meter whizzes’

IN THE office where I work there is a wallchart that records people’s beverage preferences. The initial table had the headings: tea, coffee, sugar, milk and required yes/no answers.

It now includes comments like “sometimes – ask me” and “it depends”.

If you want to see how society has deteriorated, this poster tells the whole story. Too much choice has ruined us. The latest suggestion has been to include a colour chart whereby people indicate their preferred strength. This would range from the palest beige where the tea bag merely kisses the water then exits like a champion diver, to a deep mocha – tea so strong it looks like coffee.

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All this chitchat about tea reminded me I’ve never got round to planting a Camellia sinensis bush to harvest my own. I had found suppliers for the plants (www.burncoose.co.uk or www.edenproject.com) but when I read up on the processing required, I ran out of energy.

Having re-investigated, it looks as though you pick the new leaves and buds, put them in the shade for a few hours, roll them in your hands to make them ferment, then stick them in the oven for 20 minutes. Not that arduous, really. The plants like acidic soil with wet summers and dry winters so I’ll grow one in a pot and bring it into the porch during winter. If you can’t grow your own, content yourself in the knowledge that tea is very light so shipping isn’t a massive issue.

Apparently in the UK we drink 60 billion cups of tea a year. Am I the only one who gets palpitations when the kettle boils and the electricity meter whizzes round like an out-of-control carousel? Let us remind ourselves only to boil as much water as we need.

For the eco-friendly cuppa, the best option is loose leaf organic tea, which cuts down on chemical use and packaging. According to the UK Tea Council (www.tea.co.uk), 96 per cent of tea drunk in Britain is made from tea bags, so converting everyone to loose leaf is hard.

Companies that produce it include Clipper, Equal Exchange and Hampstead Tea & Coffee Co. In carbon footprint terms, black tea scores best (21g C02 per cup if you only boil as much water as you need) and the footprint increases if you add milk and sugar.

Milk in tea accounts for two thirds of the carbon footprint so maybe we should wean ourselves off dairy (that’s the 98 per cent who take milk in tea).

Decaff tea isn’t particularly recommended as it adds yet another layer of industrial processing so if you can’t handle the caffeine, try camomile tea instead.

I can’t see loose leaf catching on in the office but I will make sure the teabags are organic. As long as they’re steeped long enough to match the chart, no-one should notice.