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Betcha, no, betcha

In my local Highams park, a fantastic bit of green space on the edge of Epping Forest in north-east London, Humphry’s cafe is a community-supported venue in a former social hut for postwar prefab houses, where you can always have a big cup of builder’s tea for £1. As a result, it’s a fantastically welcoming space, always busy, with anyone from school kids bunking off to dog walkers, pram-pushers and senior citizens putting the world to rights. Yes, you can still buy avocado on sourdough toast if you have the readies, but the presence of that cheap brew makes the cafe what it is – accessible and open to all the community.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable that museums, galleries, major libraries, hospitals and so on could take a lead from churches or my humble local cafe and start offering tea (or instant coffee) for far less than the preposterously high prices they charge now. Politicians love to brandish mugs of tea in weird displays of authenticity, but it’s galling that they have their hot beverages heavily subsidised by the taxpayer in the House of Commons cafes, where a brew costs as little as 70p.

With that in mind, it’s about time we reclaimed institutional tea and campaigned for the simple comfort of our national drink at a reasonable price – #onequidtea for all. Perhaps then we’d even be able to push the boat out and buy a monster cookie to go with it.

Guarantee you this same ignorant tosser would be outraged if you suggested lowering the £10.40 minimum wage. Which is, I assure you, one of the reasons for expensive tea. Wages are about 30% of any catering operation.

16 thoughts on “Betcha, no, betcha”

  1. In Men at War, Turner looks beyond the increasingly retrogressive and jingoistic ideal of a Britain that never was to recognise men of war as creatures of love, fear, hope and desire. From writers, filmmakers, artists and ordinary men – including those in his own family – Turner assembles a broad cast of characters to bring the war to life. There are conscientious objectors, a bisexual Commando, a pacifist poet who flew for Bomber Command, a transgender RAF pilot, a soldier who suffered in Japanese POW camps and later in life became an LGBT+ activist, and those who simply did what they could just to survive and return home to a complicated peace

    Really makes you appreciate that Hitler may have had a point.

  2. you can always have a big cup of builder’s tea for £1.

    Top tip: ask a builder if he wants “builders tea”, and watch the guy try not to call you a poof.

  3. … there is a good reason why people choose not to support the Guardian.

    For me, it’s because they’re a bunch of stinking commie bastards.

  4. “…a community-supported venue…”

    aka a highly-subsidised non-business largely staffed by volunteer pensioners.

    Anyone betting against?

  5. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    Having recently paid some astonishing price (card only, we don’t take cash) for a glass of undrinkable prosecco at ENO (their Peter Grimes is excellent, go see it if still on), it occurred that much of the wage cost is the staff standing around doing bugger all before, during, and after the performance. And that’s just in the spartan bars with flickering fluorescent lighting they let the plebs in to. Even God doesn’t know how overpriced and unprofitable the empty “frequent flyer lounge” there is.

    Why have a bar at all? With staff that needs to obey employment laws etc? You could instead auction licenses to freelance ushers who could then come along with a cart of cans of whatever fizz, and little tubs of whatever scran, they think will sell. Maybe they can even provide plastic (oops, sorry, paper) cups for them. If you want to take your drink back to your box in civilised fashion you can bring your own glass. Probably both the ushers and the theatre would make more money, and the patrons pay less.

  6. If the staff cost is 30%, then the rent, local taxes (rates?), heating, lighting, breakages, washing up etc must leave mighty little for profit. The tea itself with a dash of milk probably comes to pennies …

  7. Having had 3 dogs, was somewhat of a connoisseur of NE London park caffs. Alas not this one although spent a lot of time in the part of Epping Forest which is a continuation of the park a mile south. Most of these places were counter service with one or maybe two people on weekdays, more at busy weekends. And yes, most of them would do a cheap mug of tea. Popular with dog walkers on cold days.
    As for the usual bleat about coffee prices. These coffee shops are pricey because people like her will pay the prices. It’s not as if they have to. There will always a builder’s caff in the locality where they can get just what she’s asking for. Although maybe not on the high street. The proprietors & other customers wouldn’t object to her using it. Why should they? It’ll be her who objects to being in the vicinity of White Van Man.

  8. People can bring their own flask of tea or coffee. They could bring their own biscuits too. Maybe a true socialist would then share that tea & biscuits with others too? Nah, easier to just demand free subsidised stuff.

  9. @Bloke in the Fourth Reich – “You could instead auction licenses …”

    Doing that would get you shut down very quickly. There are plenty of rules and regulations over entertainment and the ones relating to serving alcohol are especially strict.

  10. Remember when serial tea-drinker wedgie-benn allegedly asked for a mug of hot water on a BR train and then used his own tea bag?

    In one version of the story the comrade in charge of the buffet carriage charged the tight-fisted multi-millionaire 15p.

  11. S’pose you couldn’t blame him. My memories of BR tea feature a tasteless beverage, virtually coloured water with milk. Curiously enough though, BR station buffets used to offer a surprisingly good Horlicks. But then, since BR made a consummate horlicks of nearly everything else, p’raps less than surprising.

  12. Bloke in the Fourth Reich


    Presumably the bars are run by some franchisee rather than the theatre, but who knows.

    Such rules need to be abolished anyway.

  13. At university 30 years ago I paid 25p for a cup of tea. Collect mug from kitchen, plonk in teabag, add water from boiler, stir, remove teabag, add milk and sugar, put coins in box, wash cup after using, return to cupboard..

  14. Just to endorse BiS’s point, back when I was getting my motorcycle licence (riding around south Portsmouth) we’d do Kings Road in Southsea as the “too busy, too crowded, this is the harder stuff” – passing various cafes which even back then wanted at least a pound or two for various variations on hot beverages.

    We’d stop, though, just off the seafront at a little place that did cheap (instant) coffee for 70p and decent bacon sandwiches (basic white bread, margarine, a few rashers of budget supermarket back bacon, your choice of sauce) for £2. Fast service, lot of turnover (nearby parking was ‘thirty minutes max’ and enforced even for motorbikes, so lots of folk coming in, getting fed & getting out), spartan but pleasant.

    Very mixed clientele (lot of paint-stained work clothes or hi-vis, some students, occasional police…), and the only downside was that it was off the beaten track rather than conveniently on a main shopping street – where, of course, parking would be expensive, rent much higher, and they’d be offering latte or cappuccino for £2.50 instead.

    Places like that exist (there was another one near MBDA’s plant at Stevenage, I just remembered for no obvious reason – run out of a portakabin, great place for a quick and cheap break), but you have to find them and go to them – not demand someone set them up in a location most convenient for you.

  15. Curiously enough though, BR station buffets used to offer a surprisingly good Horlicks.

    Presumably they’d have had to use real Horlicks powder, just add to hot milk (or water if you’re tight-fisted). Hard to go wrong, even for BR! Good tea needs a bit of skill.

  16. @jgh – “…put coins in box, wash cup after using, return to cupboard..”

    Which leaves the question – what did you do in the cupboard between your trips out for tea?

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