That vexed question of etiquette – should the milk be put in first or last when making tea? – still resounds.
This is despite protestations that we Brits know our tea, with some 11 million gallons downed per day.
In past times, poor quality china cups cracked if hot tea was poured into the cup before the milk. Adding it afterwards showed the owner of the cups had a quality product. Hence, snobbery was born.
All About Tea, a tea blender par excellence has a tea emporium for tea aficionados to die for, with row upon row of differing teas blended in the warehouse beyond the shelves.
Bags of loose tea from Africa, Sri Lanka, India, China, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, Vietnam and other countries contain black tea, flowering ones, green, white (yes, white, including Jasmine pearls) plus ingredients for blending aromatic, flavoured, fruit and herbal teas.
Teas have tantalising names too: Russian Caravan, Tuareg Mint, Formosa Orange Blossom amongst the vast choice, all neatly, smartly packaged in silver. It’s no wonder that All About Tea won the News Retailer of the Year this year. They also offer tea tours, workshops and a tea room at the front of the warehouse.
Sit at one of the leather sofas by old wood and glass containers of cornflower petals or marigold, other black, light beige, pink, green teas shimmering provocatively: ‘try me, try me!’
A table of cakes at preposterously low prices - £1 for a slice – are the sum of its food parts, but the tea’s the thing here.
Choose any one of the teas. I went for a fennel, a digestive aid made from the seeds of the plant but could have gone for English Afternoon, a blend of Darjeeling, Kenya and Singalese leaves; refreshing Green Earl Grey with Mint; White Tea with raspberry and stress-busting ginseng or the most popular blend, English Breakfast, a blend of Assam, Kenyan and Singalese.
There’s Portsmouth Tea too in this tea emporium, an African and Indian mix.
My tea was served in a blue teapot with a retro tea cosy your gran might have knitted during the war. I was advised by the terrific staff member, an Azerbaijani married to a tea-drinking Brit, to let it brew for five minutes. An excellent slice of orange drizzle cake was ordered from the cake selection.
Apart from enjoying the tea and the quiet of the tearoom – no music here, just the murmur of voices, some reading papers that are supplied – I also bought Southsea Earl Grey teabags and Moroccan mint leaves in a tin. Others were buying the Portsmouth tea to send to friends abroad.
I was keen to see how the tea is blended, so a young tea blender showed me the large sacks of colourful leaves and the ancient blending machine which has been handed down from local tea blenders for decades with its vast paddle.
The tea is blended by a handheld crank and the teabag machine was packing up some beautifully aromatic grapefruit teabags. They ship tea out to Camp Bastion too.
The piece de resistance, however, was a small vivid orange cement mixer used to blend Italian bergamot oil with Chinese and Indian tea leaves.
Don’t delay – experience fabulous tea and cake in laidback, friendly premises, All About Tea is a remarkable Portsmouth gem. I spent just £2.50 for tea and cake.
All About Tea, 56 Middle Street, Southsea PO5 4BP.
(023)92 75 0122.
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there. Middle Street is off Winston Churchill Avenue by the University of Portsmouth quarter. All About Tea is on the right and parking is available on the street.
Ratings (maximum *****)