Just in case you were wondering why tea ladies and not tea person, it’s a quote from Yes Minster the Economy Drive.
A tea break is great for keeping you healthy and productive. Keeping yourself hydrated is another way of keeping yourself alert and reducing sickness. When you are dehydrated you will feel tired and have a headache. Neither of which will make you work well. Over long periods, dehydration will have more serious health risks. One of which is that dehydration effects our immune system so when I’m around people with colds I always drink more in an effort to reduce my risk of catching it. When you are dehydrated or are talking a lot your throat feels dry, your mucus in your nose and throat dries up and cracks, this allows germs to pass more freely into the body. When you are hydrated your mucus is sticky and germs get caught. Have you ever noticed how your throat can get scratchy before you catch a cold? Incidentally I always drink camomile tea during flu season, I have read studies showing that camomile tea helps your immune system.*
So I think that reducing the number of ‘tea ladies’ is a false economy. Firstly: have you ever thought about the time it takes to make a cup of tea? Well to make a proper cup of tea takes a minimum of six minutes. And that doesn’t include the time it takes to walk to and from the kitchen. Secondly: it takes just as long to make one cup of tea as to make two, or three. There is a limit based on the size of your kettle. Thirdly: a cup of tea helps to keep you hydrated. Hence you want to make it as easy as possible, to have a cup of tea.
The “Tea Break” has been a part of the British working culture for over a hundred years. Although now, it is just as likely to be a coffee break, or smoothly break or my favourite a hot chocolate break. When you have a break from work, it allows you to recoup and brings your fatigue levels back down. In my ebook Fatigue and Shift Work, I discuss the finding from several studies on the importance of breaks to minimise fatigue. One study in 1995 by Rogers et al** found that breaks returned the subjects to almost the same competence as when they first started working. Hence having regular breaks can actually make you more productive.
So a tea break is good for productivity and working effectively. Hence should be encouraged in the work place. It is also good for moral too. Who wouldn’t like a boss that insists everyone stops for a tea break?
Encourage Tea Breaks
So if you want to encourage tea breaks, then having a person come along with a cup of tea regularly is a great way to do it. Now a tea person would earn minimum wage, it can be the lowest skilled person in your company. It could even be a person on work experience, so even cheaper. So if you could employ someone cheaper, who could do the job of making a cup of tea better than you (making more than one cup of tea at a time is more productive), why wouldn’t you?
So how do you make the perfect cup of tea? Well I’m a tea drinker and so have spent a lot of time researching and experimenting to make that perfect cup of tea. For me it takes about six minutes. I am not a dunk-tea-bag-in-mug-add-hot-water-squeeze-with-spoon kind of girl. If you enjoy drinking dish water then great, if on the other hand you want to truly experience a good cup of tea then read on.
The Perfect Cup of Tea
My sister and I are both tea drinkers but we can’t agree on the best way to make a cup of tea. Incidentally she was recently on BBC radio Nottingham for National Cream Tea Day to explain how to make the perfect cup of tea. In her opinion it has to be made in a teapot and you drink it out of a china cup. I, on the other hand, disagree. You can make a very nice cup of tea from a teapot and if there is more than two people drinking, I will use a teapot. However if there is only one of you drinking then the tea can over stew unless you continually add hot water or have a fancy teapot with an infuser to stop the tea getting stewed. If you are busy at your computer, it is very easy to forget about your tea unless it is right in front of you. A teapot is impractical for work. You can make just as good a tea in a mug but you have to allow it time.
To make a cup of tea, first think about how you are presenting it. With any food or beverage the first taste is with our eyes, the second with our nose and the third with our tongue. So if you want people to enjoy the tea don’t use a tea stained chipped mug! Mugs are not that expensive, get something decent for the office, porcelain is always nicer because it’s thinner and more delicate. However this can also be impractical at work unless you keep your mug on your desk and are very careful about washing it up. If you want to remove tea stains, I use a baking soda paste.
Just Add Water?
Now, making the tea, first don’t use boiling water, it tends to burn the tea leaves. The same when making coffee, don’t burn it. If you go to Italy, you will notice that they bring you your coffee at drinking temperature, and it tastes so much better for it. You want it around 90oC, so catch it before the water boils. Then add the tea bag to the mug and pour over the water. Do not try to add the tea bag to a mug of water. It doesn’t allow the tea to defuse well. (I love the part in a Second Best Marigold Hotel where this is explained.)
Now the tea you want will dictate how you brew it. If you want a regular black tea then think about the flavour. If you don’t burn the leaves the flavour really comes out. Personally I enjoy Assam, it has a good strong flavour. If you like ‘builders’ tea’ then try Assam, you do get a better flavour. My sister prefers the delicate flavour of Lady Grey with just a hint of citrus. But that’s the joy of a good cup of tea, you can enjoy different flavours. And always read the instructions on the packet. I know this may seem strange but they do tell you what will work best with the blend. Twinnings Tea are particularly good at making suggestions like drinking it black or with a dash of milk or if you should use lemon to enhance the flavour. Most teas should be brewed for about three minutes before you remove the tea bag.
With or Without Milk?
Now when it comes to adding milk, first let the tea brew, then remove the tea bag before adding the milk. This is very important and will greatly enhance the flavour. In the past the milk was always added to the cup first and then the tea was added. This was because if you were using very delicate porcelain the hot tea could crack it and stain it. This is no longer an issue. Especially if you are brewing in a teapot. After three minutes with non-boiling water even your fine antique china will not crack.
Now besides regular black teas, there are also, herbal, fruit, white, and green teas. Herbal teas are not just for hippies, camomile is great when you want to help your immune system and I also drink it if I have a headache. Mint tea is very refreshing, and helps your digestive system. I like to drink it after food or in the evenings instead of caffeinated tea.
Green and white teas are very good for you because of antioxidants. Personally I like to scare the tea bag with the water (pour the water over and then quickly remove the bag) so that I don’t get that bitter after taste. Fruit teas can be wonderful, there you really do get that first taste with your nose. They always smell divine.
Incidentally coffee always smells better than it tastes, because smell effects our taste buds. When you have a cold everything tastes bland not because your taste buds stop working but because our sense of smell is inhibited. The smell of coffee coming into the nose is more pleasant to us than the smell coming out while we are drinking. So it can leave you feeling a little disappointed. I add some chocolate and have a mocha, then you get the lovely aroma of coffee and the pleasant rich bitter flavour of the chocolate. Best of both worlds.
If you want a fruit tea or herbal, I always leave the bag in the mug. I prefer it stronger, but five minutes is normally sufficient to enjoy the flavour.
How to Remove the Bag
Now when it comes to removing the bag from the mug, NEVER under any circumstances give into the urge to squeeze the tea bag with the spoon. Instead try to gently lift the tea bag out. You really will get a better flavour.
Oh and if possible avoid adding sugar. If you don’t like the flavour of the tea on its own, with milk or lemon, try a different tea. Don’t just go on mindlessly trying to disguise the taste with sugar. It could be that you are burning the leaves so you have to add sugar to cover the bitter burnt taste.
There is of course one exception and that is the ultimate pick me up when you have a cold. I make a large teapot of tea with one bag of ginger and lemon tea and one of camomile tea. I then add a large tablespoon of honey to the pot (after three minutes so that it has brewed). Then I add one whole lemon sliced up to the pot. Then curl up on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a blanket. Drink the whole pot and repeat as required.
Bring Back the Tea Ladies
So I say bring back the tea ladies and laddies. Enjoy your tea break with pride and reduce your absence rate, increase your productivity and maximise your potential.
If your operation is too small for a tea person, then set up a rota. Take it in turns to make everyone a cup of tea. Whenever I want a cup of tea I always ask everyone else if they would like one too. You’ll soon become the most popular person in your office. People associate things in their minds, it’s how we remember. So if you are responsible for making everyone feel happy, alert and productive, they will start to associate these feeling with you.
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* Jan 2005, 26 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
** Rogers AS, Spencer MB, Pascoe PA, 1995, Workload and fatigue in single seat air operations: a laboratory study, DERA Report No. DRA/CHS/A&N/CR/95/22.