As a British person and an ambassador for those isles, I feel that we have been keeping a secret from you for far too long. What I am about to let out of the bag is something that the hospitality industry wants you to think is done up and down the land but the truth is your average Brit has never really taken part in it.
There is simply no such thing as Afternoon Tea.
People do drink tea all the time though. Any excuse and the tea comes out;
You have some good news to share. Tea.
You have an important deadline to meet. Tea.
Lunch is finished. Tea.
Tea. More Tea.
Builders are working on your house. Offer some tea.
There has been a death in the family. Tea.
Want to unwind in front of the TV after a stressful day. Tea.
Someone bought some biscuits. Pop the kettle on.
In fact, I remember as a child the national electricity grid always getting very nervous at half times of important football matches because as soon as that whistle goes, just about everyone watching on TV puts the kettle on. I guess at some point during the seventies such a power serge brought the country to its knees and people feared a repeat.
Tea is drunk quite a lot in the UK, for almost any reason. The Afternoon Tea that exists only in the dreams of Anglophiles, tourists and hotel managers doesn’t really happen outside posh hotels and cafes though. Sure, people have been known to have cake with their tea on occasion but it is just as likely to be drunk with a plate of beans on toast at some grimy lunch stall. We certainly don’t wait until about 3pm, get out all the best china and sit around the front room in our glad rags discussing what a dish Mr D’Arcy is. There is a meal time that we call ‘Tea’ but that just is a light dinner as far as I’m concerned, tea drinking isn’t even necessary during it (although encouraged).
Although afternoon tea is something that doesn’t really happen outside the confines of a Jane Austin novel, many people from other countries have an obsession with it. Japan is no exception.
To start with there is even a shop named after this non-existent practice. Afternoon Tea is a shop that sells what I prefer to call, quaint goods. Their stores are littered with various tea related paraphernalia such as tea pots and cosies but also cheese boards, calenders, notepads, clocks, lunch boxes and soft toys. Obviously though, their centrepieces are the cake stands they sell. Perfect for your ‘authentic’ afternoon tea needs.
Next up is a range of drinks from the Kirin beer company which go by the name of Gogo no Koucha which means (you guessed it) Afternoon Tea. This range of drinks is not like the tea you would usually be served in England though, it is a selection of bottled ice teas that come in various flavours.
First is the no frills Straight Tea. As the name implies it is plain tea with a wee bit of sweetener in the mix. It’s quite a mellow taste and I like it. However, I suppose saying straight tea is ok English but if someone can go to a restaurant and order ‘a straight tea’ it’s just a matter of time before someone goes to a cafe and asks for their tea ‘shaken, not stirred’. Next to the Straight Tea is the yellow labelled Lemon Tea, this is your usual tasty iced tea with a hint of lemon and probably my favourite of the bunch.
A change in packaging is up next and with it a slightly more serious ‘Darjeeling blend’ named Oishii Mutou (Delicious Sugarless). Holding back on the sweetener is a good thing, but I’ve never been that fond of Darjeeling so I don’t think it is particularly oishii, despite their claims. Finally there is the controversial Milk Tea. Japanese people seem to think there is nothing wrong with it but imagine if you made a cup of tea, filled it with a sickly syrupy sweetener and then left it for about 2 hours. You would spit it straight out after drinking it, wouldn’t you? Well that’s exactly what I did after drinking this. I’ve yet to meet a fellow Englishman who can stand it. It is simply a corruption of what tea should be, it is just wrong.
This isn’t their entire range, a quick look of their website tells me that they do canned Espresso Tea, although I’m not really sure what that is. Also, in addition to the bottles they do a carton named Break on the Desk. Which I think is a wonderful way to address tea. Talking of wonderful names they have just released a tea called Pungency, which I guess is really smelly.
I dunno about you but give me a steamy hot cup of PG Tips and some rich tea bickies over this stuff any day.