Tea – the undisputed conversation catalyst of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. For us Brits, there is nothing quite like enjoying a lovely cuppa with friends to promote camaraderie & friendship. It is also just happens to be a great way to start the day.
Although it has been around in China for a few thousand years, tea is a relative newbie to this country, being allegedly introduced to British society by Catherine, the Portuguese wife of King Charles the Second, circa 1680 something. The process of adding milk to tea was implemented just a little while later, in an effort to stop the fragile china cups from China, cracking with the heat from boiling water. Our adoration of the hot coloured liquid continued, prompting heavy taxation (what a surprise). Smuggling & adulteration of the product ensued with unscrupulous dealers cutting the brew with tea-looking substitutes, such as dried garden leaves & even, sheep dung (“Excuse me Sir, my tea tastes like s**t”). This was stopped by William Pitt the Younger in 1784 when he slashed the tea taxation. Hurrah for Bill.
During the First World War, the British Government recognised the morale boosting importance of tea, not only to the boys in the trenches, but also to the members of the public & took control of its importation to prevent price over-inflation. Similarly, the government controlled the flow once again, during & after the Second World War, finally letting go, at the end of rationing, in 1952.
As we march forward to modern times, ‘getting a brew on’ is still an absolute necessity for most Brits, especially those taking part in military shenanigans. Each squaddie carries within their personal equipment, a ‘brew kit’, which typically comprises of a lightweight stove, a metal receptacle & a variety of ingredients. For those who are vehicle based though, then it is common to find what was known as a ‘brew-box’, ‘morale box’ or a ‘little box of joy’. This is usually an old metal ammunition box, which contains a more robust brew-kit, complete with a frying pan for cooking ‘egg banjos’, as well as other essential items, such as biscuits, chocolate bars, comfy-bum (soft toilet paper), an assortment of ‘artistic’ magazines & possibly, even a bottle or two of beer.
I may have dropped the uniform & the two sugars many years ago, I still carry on the good practice of brewing up when I am out in the field. In my possession I have some of what I consider, the best bits of brew making kit, known to man. The first is the MSR ‘Pocket Rocket’ stove, the second is their titanium kettle & the third is a wood burning Bushbuddy (BB) stove. There are times when there is a need to have something hot & wet as fast as possible, favouring the instant ferocious heat of the MSR. But when I am out on my slow-travels, in true dawdler fashion, I don’t need much of an excuse to stop & fire up the BB – although, the process involved to light & actually make a brew, can sometimes be comparable in time to a full-blown Japanese tea ceremony, but hey, who cares about time, right kids?
For car travels, the MSR, kettle & BB all take their place in the family brew-box, that lives in the car boot. This green, wooden box (actually made by my old dad), contains all the necessary items required for a makeshift family meal at the side of the road. As well as pans & a variety of cutlery & plates, it contains essentials such as penknives, clothes pegs, string, playing cards, duck tape (‘black nasty’ as it is known in the army), sachets of porridge & hot chocolate powder, as well as metal skewers to toast marshmallows over the embers in the BB. My children still talk about the day when Daddy parked up for a spot of lunch in a wooded lay-by near Durdle Dor in Dorset, only to discover it was right next to Bovington tank range. No sooner than we had the sausages sizzling in the pan, then the tanks started firing from the other side of the copse, making the ground shake with every boom. It was also the day when the children learnt a new ‘adult’ word from Daddy – “What the f**k was that??“