Builder’s Tea: A Workman’s Tradition

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Builder’s Tea is a uniquely British concoction that is both indispensable to its working class and a fascinating unsung contributor to its tea culture. This creation of Yorkshire Tea is still a staple that drives its marketing, like the ad for Yorkshire Tea starring Sean Bean, which we enthusiastically recommend that you treat yourself and give it a watch (we’ll include a link at the bottom). “Proper brews… for Yorkshire!” Now that’s the passion that good tea deserves.

Worker's Enjoying Tea

Worker’s Enjoying Tea – Gunbower District, Victoria

Builder’s tea has been around far longer than there has been a name for it, but it is thought to have developed in the 1970’s, as the U.K. was finally regaining its economic footing in the decades following WWII. The British manufacturing industry was on the rise, domestic production was highly valued, and skilled laborers were in demand to work assembly lines and construction sites. A new blue-collar culture began to emerge, and with it, a demand for low-cost, quick-brewing tea that could provide these workers a rapid dose of refreshment. This need was especially vital for those working outside factories and offices, where deadlines were tighter and breaks more sporadic – everyday tradesmen like carpenters, electricians, and bricklayers.

The essential elements of a cup of builder’s tea were thus tailored to the demands of the laborer. Traditionally, the blend utilized would consist mostly of Keemun (also known as Qimen or Qimen Gongfu) a Chinese black tea out of southern Anhui Province. First produced during the Qing Dynasty, this tea has been popular in the West since the late 19th century. Its characteristics make it ideal as the base of builder’s tea, which needed to be inexpensive, highly caffeinated, and with a flavor able to withstand a fast and brutal preparation. Historically favored brands include Tetley’s, PG Tips, and – of course – Yorkshire.

Colonial Breakfast Tea Liquor and Loose Leaf

Colonial Breakfast Tea

Builder’s tea was always brewed directly in mugs instead of a teapot. Boiled water was poured directly over teabags (loose tea was never preferred), and each mug was then subject to vigorous stirring. The idea was to extract as much flavor and caffeine from the teabag as possible in an abbreviated amount of time, and stirring was thought to speed the process along. Once the desired steep strength was reached, the bag was discarded, and generous amounts of full-fat milk and white sugar were added for an extra boost of energy and calories.

These days, although still conspicuous on any British construction site or factory floor, builder’s tea is waning in popularity as coffee blends and energy drinks seek to crowd out competition. Brands like Yorkshire Tea, however, still insist on keeping builder’s tea alive. And if you’re curious to try a strong black tea to get you through the workday, we at Dominion Tea recommend Colonial Breakfast. This Keemun blend boasts a malty kick and a delightful smoothness, and is perfect for both a morning start or an afternoon pickup. Hard to beat that for a proper brew!

By: Jen Coate
Yorkshire Tea Commercial: https://youtu.be/8cipMoGKXGE

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