Builders Tea – What Is It, the History and How to Make It

Tea Chat, Tea Facts /

Every nation has its quirky traditions. The UK has been around a long time, so they’re bound to have their fair share. That doesn’t just mean centuries-old traditions, but modern ones too. like…

What is Builders Tea?

What is Builders Tea? Builders Tea is a strong, thick, sweet made Tea with milk and often multiple teaspoons of sugar. Boiling water, poured over a Teabag (black Assam) and placed directly in a mug. Then frantically stirred with a spoon, or any building site implements that come to hand until it’s strongly steeped (or brewed). Then serve.

It’s surprising just how much this nourishing drink can refresh the weary laborer.

Who Invented Builders Tea?

You might as well ask who invented dancing, it wasn’t so much ‘invented’ as it just appeared and developed. There are very few documented recordings of Builders Tea, it’s been more by way of cultural development, however, the term has popped up in one or two books over the years.

The Meaning Behind Builders Tea

Although the term ‘Builders Brew’ was coined until later, its existence came to prominence around the early to late 1970s. At that time the UK had a thriving manufacturing industry with ‘Made in Britain’ at the heart of it, a phrase which stood for quality and assurance.

The laborers who manned the assembly lines and construction sites and those who held the manufacturing skills of Britain were commonly known as ‘Blue Collar Workers’. By virtue of the fact they often wore blue overalls.

This by implication meant that academic positions were commonly referred to as ‘White Collar Workers’.  Although that’s not to say white-collar workers necessarily had better/higher jobs or earned more than their counterparts.

This ‘division of labor’ showed itself in a number of ways, including in the social pursuits of each class and their work routines.

As factory workers, those on construction and building sites and engineering would likely take regular timed breaks. They would have sufficient time to make and enjoy a fast brew of Tea, but one that helped refresh them AND serve as a form of nourishment through the next shift.

Tea was still the most popular beverage in the UK it meant that workers would often have a ‘Brew’ of tea after a long heavy work shift or during breaks. So the phrase ‘Builders Tea was borne of this era.

Building Sites

builders tea break

But ‘Builders Tea’ wasn’t derived within the ranks of manufacturing, it was more the preserve of the builders, the construction site workers, and the tradesmen. Carpenters, Plumbers, Electricians, and ‘Brickies’ (bricklayers). Who’s breaks were perhaps more sporadic, more often, and more ’unofficial’.

The site upon which they worked often had a hastily made tea-making area which included a mandatory half-open bag of sugar, which also served as a place to keep the tea-stained spoon – almost a beacon … a flag to flock to when the shout of ‘Teas-Up’ went out.

With milk bought that morning and a box of your favorite PG Tips, oh and of course, a kettle … any kettle.

Each worker would know how the others liked their tea, they might even have their own mugs already, which may or may not be ‘swilled out’ prior to the next cuppa.

Often the tea would be like buying a round of drinks at the local pub/bar. Each would take their turn unless it fell to the new apprentice as their main job!

And often the most senior would be exempt – like they’ve taken retirement from the tea-making service, presumably due to the decades of time well served in making tea for countless comrades.

And if someone brought a packet of biscuits (cookies) out, then the real party started!

This Lego YouTube mock-up of an old song by Bernard Cribbins in 1962 really encapsulates the image that tea has within the building trade.

Builders United

In truth, this ritual probably encouraged a sense of camaraderie of sorts and developed a bonding with work colleagues. That of ‘an accomplished day’s work’.

Ahh, the idyllic image of sitting back of a summer’s evening, admiring the day’s achievements before them and all that they had built. Sipping at hot Builders Tea. With knowing nods and glances, a little laughter and rites of passage abound!

Yes, you’re absolutely right, I’m not a poet!

Anyhow … The Phrase eventually expanded to encompass all of societal Britain. It came to mean any strong sweet drink of tea made – usually following any physical task or a long workday.

An Accomplished Days Work!

I think the following PG Tips advert circa 1971 probably encapsulates the mood and sense of what Builders Tea is like. Even though in this clip the tea strictly wasn’t made by the tradesmen.

How to Make the Best Builders Tea

The real key to making builders’ tea is to make it with as little precision as possible, and at almost twice the speed you usually would – except, spend twice as long stirring the tea bag in a frantic manner to create a strong Brew.

By virtue of this rather sloppy process there are no hard and fast rules, but here are the basic steps to follow.

  1. Put on to boil enough water to fill a Mug for each ‘builder’ – at least 350 ml
  2. Prepare the mug by adding one cheap tea bag (black tea) and at least Two heaped teaspoons of sugar
  3. Adding milk before or after is a preference. But as long as you do add milk.
  4. As soon as the boil is at its maximum point, pour directly into the Mug
  5. Steeping (brewing) requires continuous stirring to quickly invoke as much tannin and caffeine as possible from the tea.
  6. Stir and tease the teabag for 30 seconds to a minute, before removing and discarding it.
  7. Arrive at a tea that is thick, dark tan in appearance, and sweet-smelling.
  8. Serve

For extra spice, open some Rich Tea Biscuits, ideal for sharing around and dunking in the tea!

If you like it particularly strong, you can add 2 Tea bags – but this is rare.

Builders Tea Brands

The main criteria for builders’ tea are that it’s fairly cheap and can quickly yield a strong brew. So here’s the list. There will of course be personal preferences on this topic, so each ‘Builders’ list may vary.

1. PG Tips

In the 70’s PG Tips aimed their branding toward Tradesmen in a series of adverts (see above Video Clip). In so doing, they took on the mantle as the tea of choice for builders. However, there are a number of teas more than suitable for the job.

2. Tetley Tea

The Tetley Tea Folk from the adverts from 1973 onwards helped Tetley associate themselves with the north, as well as with the working class. When they stopped the Tea Folk Ads in 2002 sales plummeted. They re-introduced them sometime later.

3. Yorkshire Tea

This is very much a brand that associates itself with the north of England and the heartlands of the working industries. For this reason, Yorkshire tea lends itself well to this genre of tea. It also brews strong and quickly.

4. Typhoo

Less so these days, but Typhoo is still a strong candidate for Builders Tea.

5. Builders Tea Brand

It was only a matter of time before someone capitalized on this trend. The brand of builders tea is here, it’s said to brew quickly, be a fine blend of tea, and be tested by master craftsmen!

Well, I hope that’s true, but indeed the only true test is on the building sites of Great Britain!

Now you know what Builders Tea is, there may well be times in your life when you’ve partaken in just such an occasion. Perhaps you didn’t even know it at the time.

This has hopefully given you an insight into builders tea, answering the questions you might have on how to make builders tea, why do they call it Builders Tea? and what type of tea is builders tea?

Now, this has been pretty hard work … I think I’ll have a cup of … Earl Grey!

8 Replies to “Builders Tea – What Is It, the History and How to Make It”

  1. Thank you for Builders Tea.
    I live in New York and just started drinking the tea by chance.
    It is by far the best tea I have ever had and I drink several cups a day.
    I am retired from 40 years of construction and sure wish I had this tea on my breaks!
    Thank you again for this wonderful cuppa tea!

  2. Thank you very much Skye, I’m glad you enjoyed it, and appreciate the feedback. And perhaps I should also add that you might be able to make use of my tea sommelier course for helping to brush up on your tea brewing skills! 🙂

  3. This article is absolutely wonderful. Based on the information, I have been drinking builders tea for nearly 6 decades. I wholeheartedly enjoy both the brewing style and the brand, but I think I might need to work on my tea brewing skills.😆

  4. Love love the “Builder’s” brand of tea. “Britain wasn’t built on Chamomile”. But I’m spoiled now; it is my favorite tea. As Paul said, any other brand needs two tea bags to brew a good cup.

  5. Thank you, Donna, may you and yours be and remain truly happy and healthy too!

  6. Thank you for this lovely explanation of what Builder’s Tea is! I’m going to make myself a cup some day soon just to try it out and feel the kinship between myself and my forebears from across the pond. May you and yours be and remain happy and healthy!

  7. Need two T bags bags not one to make builders, lol. Or better non bag tea brewed in a pot. Currently best builders is the brand Builders Tea. Yorkshire Tea brand has gone downhill over last decade or so and is now wishy washy and it varies in strength and taste.

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