Few subjects arouse my interest more than a nice cuppa tea, and the correct brewing thereof. I was therefore drawn towards a study commissioned by the Royal Voluntary Service on the changing tea drinking habits of the nation, in particular that of the work tea break.
It’s not news to me, as I’ve thought tea drinking has been on the decline ever since the PG Tips chimps were pensioned off, but the research has identified the death of the communal cuppa despite Britons downing an average of five cups of tea (or coffee) each day at work, with 44% consuming five or more cups in a working day. Back in the late 80s/early 90s my tea drinking was out of control, perhaps a gallon or two per day. Granted, the boiling of the kettle and lengthy brewing process that I insist on was, at the time, partly a ruse to kill time and dodge menial tasks.
Around 40% of workers claim their boss never makes them a cuppa. Well, in our office the boss is banned from making them. We have standards and he is too untrained to be let loose with a kettle and tea bags.
In the golden age of tea drinking, that thirty or forty year period centred around the fight against Herr Hitler, all work would stop for the tea break, whether in factory, farm or office. No vending machines in those days. Just Betty and Iris with their trolley, a steaming ten gallon urn and a stackful of utility china cups and saucers. By the way, have you ever seen anyone use a cup and saucer in your workplace? No, me neither. Even the cup is a rarity, we all use mugs at Hunt4Staff Towers.
It appears a third of workers would rather just make themselves a drink and get back to work and many are resorting to underhand tactics to do just that. Common excuses deployed to get out of the tea round include waiting until people are scarce, offering when people have just made one themselves and making pathetic tasteless ‘instant’ teas and coffees so they are not asked again. (Ring any bells, Mr Perry?)
We surely all know the benefits of a good cuppa – the original health drink with its magical recuperative, regenerative and strength-giving powers. Not to mention its boost to workers’ morale and the opportunity it affords to share gossip, gripes and guffaws. 37% of workers say regular communication with colleagues is important in the workplace and 41% claim that taking short breaks during the working day is essential for concentration.
There is, however, a more solemn underscore to the survey. A significant portion of the population can no longer enjoy the workplace banter with colleagues over a shared cuppa. Nearly three-quarters of over 75s that live alone feel terribly lonely and so the RVS is promoting a Great Brew Break between 28th April and 4th May, with tea events held throughout the country to raise funds to help the charity deliver services to alleviate loneliness among older people.
What better person than Stephen Fry, a supporter of the RVS’s Great Brew Break, to have the last word: “A cup of tea is so collectively comforting to people in Britain, that its power can never be underestimated. For older people that don’t see anyone from one day to the next a cup of tea and a chat means everything. No matter who you are, a good brew break helps keep you going.”