Builder’s tea is a hearty, robust, sweet, and thick tea made by pouring hot water over a tea bag placed in a mug. The tea is then stirred frantically with a spoon with sugar and milk added by the drinker. However, some drinkers may forego the sugar. Builder’s tea (builder’s brew) takes its name from the tea drunk by construction workers taking a break. The term is usually used to differentiate it from other tea servings as it is typically brewed strong and is brewed in mugs (as opposed to tea leaves in a pot) and milk can be added after either stirring the brew or leaving it to infuse. The term is commonly used throughout both the United Kingdom and Ireland.
History of Builder’s Tea
The existence of the term “Builder’s Brew” came into prominence in the 1970’s and at that time the United Kingdom had a flourishing manufacturing industry. The laborers who had manufacturing skills and employees who manned the factories’ assembly lines usually wore blue overalls and were commonly referred to as “Blue Collar Workers”. This implies that workers who held academic positions were known as “White Collar Workers”. However, this does not necessarily mean that white collar workers had higher-paying or better jobs that their blue collar counterparts. The division of labor manifested in various different ways, including the work routines and social quests of each class.
Factory workers who held engineering positions and those who were on building and construction sites would take regular timed breaks. This gave them ample time to brew and enjoy a fast mug of tea in a bid to refresh and nourish themselves in preparation for the next shift. Since tea was still one of the most popular beverages in the UK, laborers would often have a mug of tea during breaks or after long, heavy work shifts. Therefore, the term “Builder’s Tea” was coined during this era.
Meaning of builder’s tea: Why was builder’s tea so common in building sites?
Besides powering the minds of some of the greatest thinkers in history, some scholars also suggest that tea played a very critical role in the British Industrial Revolution. Tea contains stimulants which when coupled with the energy from milk and sugar would act like an energy drink and give laborers a boost to help them work longer shifts. Blue collar workers found builder’s tea to be both stimulating and soothing. However, the brew was not driven through the ranks of manufacturing; it was typically a preserve for the construction site workers, builders, and trades men such as bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, engineers, and electricians who had more sporadic and unofficial breaks.
Building and construction sites usually has hastily made tea making areas which included a kettle and a half-open bag of sugar where a tea stained spoon was kept. Milk was usually bought in the morning and the workers would also bring a box of their favorite PG tips.
Each laborer knew how their colleagues like their tea. Some workers even had their own tea mugs, which may or may not be rinsed prior to the next serving. The tea making session was just like buying a round of drinks for colleagues at the local bar. Each worker would take their turn unless the task fell on a new apprentice as their job. Sometimes, the workers would enjoy their tea with a packet of biscuits.
The builder’s tea ritual encouraged a strong sense of comradeship and helped develop bonding with workmates. Workers also used the tea breaks to admire the days’ achievements and everything they had built. Moreover, since water has to be boiled to brew tea, various water-borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were killed.
The phrase “Builder’s Tea” gradually expanded to encompass all of Britain and it came to refer to any robust, sweet brew of tea made following a long work day or any tedious physical task.
Even today, builder’s brew is a favorite for many people doing strenuous work in the positions they hold.
Characteristics of builder’s tea
Builder’s tea is usually strong and has a brown color. Once the water has boiled, the teabag is left to brew for between 2 and 4 minutes, which is more than the average English teabag brew time. Brands containing Assam leaves, as well as those rich in caffeine and tannin are commonly preferred for this type of tea serving.
How to make builder’s tea
It is critical to get builder’s brew right, as many strong drinks are crucial to keeping up morale and energy especially during a long day of tedious physical labor.
Ingredients for 1 serving:
- 1 mug
- 1 kettle of boiling water
- 1 tea bag
- 2 teaspoons of white sugar
- 1 dash milk
Although there are no hard rules, here are the steps to follow:
- The brewer must first ensure the kettle is the right size because anything too large can lead to weaker tea that might go cold even before the brew can be drunk. Boil enough water to fill a 350ml mug for each person.
- Add one tea bag and about two teaspoons of sugar to each mug.
- Pour hot water directly over the tea bag to release the flavor and ensure that the brew gets the perfect color before adding milk. Always ensure the water is at its maximum boiling point of 100 degrees).
- Stir the brew continuously and be sure to squeeze the tea bag against the side of the kettle or mug several times to help the tea bag release its chemical compounds and keep the brew strong. Continuous stirring (for 30 seconds to a minute) ensures you quickly invoke as much caffeine and tannin as possible.
- Remove and discard the teabag.
- Add the milk dash carefully, as builder’s tea needs to be robust and milky. The brew should also have a brown color. Keep stirring while adding the milk to see how the color is developing. (This has been a point of contention as some people add the milk first before adding hot water. However, this might dilute the general effect you get from the hot water hitting the teabag directly in order to release a strong flavor).
- Arrive at a brew that is thick, strong, sweet smelling and dark tan in color.
- You can serve with a slice of cake or tea biscuits for sharing around
The usual sugar serving for builder’s tea is two teaspoons. However, it’s important to check your colleagues’ or guests’ individual preferences just to be sure.
Do’s and don’ts for making builder’s tea
- Always use a teabag: “True” builder’s tea should never be made from loose tea leaves.
- Pour the water as soon as it has boiled to ensure it’s as hot as possible when it’s hitting the tea bag.
- Make the tea strong to achieve the best color and taste.
- Don’t use sweetener or brown sugar. The sugar must be raw cane sugar (which is less processed) or white sugar.
- Use skimmed milk as this will ruin an otherwise perfect serving.
- Use decaffeinated tea
- Use peppermint, chai, Earl Grey, or fruit
- Serve in plastic cups or china
Popular builder’s tea brands
Many builder’s tea brands are relatively cheap and usually yield
a strong brew quickly. However, when it comes to choosing the brand, personal
preference comes to play and each list may vary. Here are some well-known
builder’s tea brands:
1. PG Tips
In the early and late 1970’s PG Tips mainly aimed their advertising and branding towards blue collar workers and tradesmen in numerous advertisements. Therefore, they easily became the tea of choice for many builders across the country. However, there’s a wide variety of tea brands that are great for the job.
2. Yorkshire tea
This brand typically associates itself with industrial areas in the north of England. This is one of the main reasons why the brand is popular among workers for making builders tea. Yorkshire tea also brews quick and strong.
3. Tatley tea
From the 70’s onwards, Tatley tea used the Tatley Ta Folk to associate itself with the working class as well as the North of England. However, sales dropped in 2002 when they stopped the Tatley Tea Folk Ads. However, they reintroduced the Tea Fold Ads later.
4. Builder’s Tea Brand
This brand capitalized on the builder’s tea trend and has gained immense popularity. It is said to be a fine blend that brews quickly and is tested by experts.
It is not uncommon for workmen to drink several cups of tea each day. It’s not only a social thing; it’s also a small gesture when friends come over for a chat or when the electrician comes to fix a faulty appliance. In fact, most builders and other tradesmen usually have a thermos-flask or kettle of tea on hand for breaks during the day. This is where “Builder’s Brew” (builder’s tea) finds its origins: usually made from black tea, it is brewed stronger than normal, more milky than normal, piping hot and usually with two or more teaspoons of sugar.