Don’t Quit Sugar

English Breakfast

I talk a lot about how no one should put more than 2 sugars in their hot beverages. I suppose an explanation is in order.

Sugar is bad for you.

It’s not new news. It’s not even news. Everyone knows that sugar has absolutely zero health benefits. But I still like it. I am firm believer in cake (especially cheesecake). Chocolate was created for bad moods. Canada is a country devoted entirely to syrup, and I love both country and substance.

So why my objection to sugar in tea?

There’s a couple of reasons. First, tea is vast and varied and can be manipulated to suit tastebuds without the addition of sugar. People who believe in good whiskey tend not to cut it with anything, because then you’ll miss some aspect of the whiskey. (At least, this is the impression I get from whiskey drinkers. I’m completely allergic to alcohol myself, so I’m winging it here). If you want to understand the nuance, depth and complexity of a tea, you have to drink it and learn to enjoy it without any sugar first.

Some teas do come alive with a hint of sweetener. A touch of honey in chai is a terrific idea every now and then. A drop of maple syrup in New York Breakfast tastes divine. And Madagascan Vanilla is a new tea when you have it with sugar or milk or sugar and milk. But the only reason I can appreciate these teas with sweetener is because I first understood their profile without.

All well and good for people like me who are big fans of enjoying a cup of tea down to its last sip, but not everyone is that devoted to the morning cuppa. Fair enough. I still think sugar in tea as a principle is not a good idea. It’s because I like sugar that I don’t think it should be in tea. As I mentioned, I believe in cake, in scones and jam, and chocolate chip bikkies. And when you believe in these things, and hope to live beyond 45 years old, you have to cut out sugar somewhere.

Tea hosts so many health benefits, that by dumping in a small mound of sweetener, you’re ruining your chances of those health benefits making any kind of a difference. And because I believe in sugary treats, I have to believe in balancing this with good food options on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I’d rather have a full blown slice of cake in the place of 10 sugar-added cups of tea. I don’t think you can enjoy both and live a long and happy life.

And so, we arrive at English Breakfast. It’s a bit of a beast to be honest. Not at all a smooth tea, it boasts an astringent flavour. It’s as though the British values of tutting, queuing and whinging were crystallised into a flavour and infused into a tea leaf. That’s English Breakfast. I have a hard time taking it without milk. There is a bitterness in a cup of English Breakfast that betrays the expectation of a forecast of drizzle and disappointment. That said, it’s hard to imagine not drinking English Breakfast. It is such a classic flavour, and nearly always on offer, alongside Earl Grey.

It is a truly tempting tea to add sweetener to. The flavour won’t suffer for it, in fact, sugar would probably be an improvement. But it is a matter of principle that I take it with milk only. If I’m honest, English Breakfast is such well worn start to the day, I have recommended to friends that they replace their morning coffee with a cup of the iconic tea. This suggestion is rarely received well and often devolves into me defending the superiority of tea to virtually no avail. But most people I speak to who drink coffee require a minimum of 2 sugars. If your drink is that bitter, you don’t actually like the taste of it. Few are prepared to admit that they don’t like the taste of coffee, but they do enjoy the buzz of the caffeine. But I, in all confidence, can assure you, that I like the taste of tea. Even without sugar.

English Breakfast: 3/5
Enjoy with: the first rays of the day.

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