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16th June 2009
Just in time for Father's Day, Alexandra Fullerton reveals the growing trend for men to take afternoon tea.
Does the male / female divide really exist during the classless pursuit of an excellent afternoon tea? It seems the answer is threefold. Some may reject afternoon tea’s image as a solely female activity as an outdated stereotype, but there is still evidence - in some areas - that the women who choose to spend their afternoons sipping a leisurely cup of tea still outnumber the men. However, elsewhere in Britain, tea rooms and hotels have been noticing a significant rise in men choosing to take tea together! It seems that in 2009, anything goes...
Afternoon tea is credited as being created by The Duchess of Bedford and the image of afternoon tea as an opportunity for women to get together has - in some cases - stuck. Mike Wright, Senior Tea Buyer Blender and NPD Manager at Twinings, notes that during the 1800s taking tea, "allowed the ladies to get together and chat - while the men preferred to meet in coffee and ale houses."
However the author of the blog The Half Dipper, Hobbes, dismisses the premise that afternoon tea is a female pursuit as "American" and points out, "In the UK, afternoon tea is neither male nor female. Most Oxford colleges, for example, put on afternoon tea, which is equally well attended by both halves of the college". Indeed, many people start drinking tea whilst at school and continue to do so at home, college, university, in the work place and socially with their friends!
But out on the street, the fact remains that many women have continued to visit the UK's tea-rooms during afternoon service. James Pogson, director of Northern Tea Merchants in Derbyshire wonders if it is because "women are greater social animals than men". He also notes that "early afternoon is the perfect time to take a well earned break before the kids come out of school".
To change this perception (and entice more male customers) some hotels are going one step further and introducing men to the delights of afternoon tea by offering 'Men's Tea'. With red meat-filled sandwiches and the option of whisky (instead of the traditional afternoon tea with Champagne) it seems to be working... although for other venues, it looks like gimmicks aren't necessary: Leyla Mussaud, Manager of The English Tea Room at Browns (the winner of The Tea Guild's Top London Afternoon Tea Award 2009), has noticed that, "over the last year we've found more and more male customers are enjoying afternoon tea, either with their family, or colleagues. We have even found that groups of men choose to meet in the Tea Room for business meetings". Lindsay Judd, Branch Manager of Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms has seen the trend echoed in Yorkshire. "Over the last year we've had more male customers coming in for Afternoon Tea - often with wives, girlfriends, children or mums. In the current economic climate, wallet-busting restaurants are out of favour, but afternoon tea has become a great way to treat yourself and others". And, as at Browns, Lindsay has noticed an increase in the number of guests holding business meetings over afternoon tea. "It's a more informal, relaxed way of entertaining customers and clients" he suggests.
Although there are still some chintz-swathed tea rooms in evidence around the UK, The English Tea Room at Browns is the perfect place for men to meet. The decor feels like a traditional gentleman's club with rich wood panelling and comfortable leather chairs - it's an environment instantly conducive for a masculine meeting, evidenced by the fact that men are increasingly opting to visit the hotel's award-winning tea room.
It seems that men are realising that teas can be as subtly nuanced in flavour as wine and are becoming more adventurous in their tea choices too. Tea tasting has seen a surge in popularity as both sexes want to explore tea's myriad blends. Lindsay Judd notes, "We have a number of male customers with a lot of tea knowledge: people who'll experiment and try different teas to suit the time of day or occasion. These customers tend to choose the 'limited edition' teas we offer - rare, exclusive finds selected by our Tea Buyers". According to Edward Eisler at Jing Tea "a growing number of our male customers are trying our oolong teas, because of oolong’s complexity and connoisseur value. We find that these customers have started with black and green teas and are looking to explore tea further". While at The Bridge Tea Rooms, Roy Hayward reveals that Gov'ners Tea ("one of our strongest") is their most popular. "It's a blend of Darjeeling and Assam teas and male customers order it as they like to think they're the boss!"
Master tea blender Alex Probyn admits that the change is still happening slowly though. "In my experience, men are still less adventurous when it comes to tea! A good English Breakfast-style black tea blend is by far the most popular, but over the past two years we've seen a shift towards more specialist teas and the younger generation is more open to trying new things". This willingness to experiment could be due to the fact that most quality tea places now offer their customers a dedicated tea menu (akin to a wine menu) which fully describes the flavours of the blends available to further encourage customers to experiment with their tea choice.
But what about taste? Leyla Mussaud at Browns believes that men usually prefer to drink black teas as they give "a rich flavour and colour". She cites Browns' Afternoon and Morning Blends as the most popular with men, along with Margaret's Hope Darjeeling and Assam blends. In the supermarkets Twinings' 1706, Everyday and Assam blends are the most popular, according to Mike Wright, and are chosen because "men prefer stronger varieties".
So, if the men in your life are just starting to explore tea, or are still hooked on a Builder's brew, here are some suggestions of great new blends to try:
"As a very general rule, men prefer stronger tea" admits James Pogson of Northern Tea. "We see lots of sales of Kenya and Assam blends to gents but I would like to see them try something more adventurous, such as a green tea. Chinese Gunpowder, for example, doesn't need any milk and tastes great. It's better than a Red Bull!"
Edward Eisler of Jing Tea recommends that men should explore oolong teas, "particularly the more heavily oxidized examples like Big Red Robe, Iron Arhat and Phoenix Honey Orchid. These teas are rich and full in taste and have a depth of flavour that you’ll never tire of".
Brian Writer of The Windmill Tea Company advises, "Try to taste as many teas as possible - there is a very wide range of flavours. Drink black tea with milk, greens without and try white tea as an aperitif". Brian also notes, "Men should drink tea through out the day as it's a mild stimulant and helps to re-hydrate".
The latest images of tea fans in action...
Featured Member: Satemwa Tea Estates
Satemwa is a small privatly owned estate in Malawi producing a unique range of hand made white and black teas, orthodox black, oolong and ph-uer teas as well as CTC type black teas. All teas are certified fair trade and grown without the use of pesticides. Satemwa also has a number of lodges on the estate where one can step back in time and enjoy... Read more