Posted in Kafevend Blog
The Japanese might have their intricate tea ceremony, but in a way we have our own daily tea custom. We're not talking about afternoon tea here, a rare treat in twenty first century Britain, but about the much more widely practised ritual of tea and biscuits! For many of us the custom is extended to either the fine art of dunking, or the equally challenging nibbling away of layers.
Great big chunky American style cookies have unquestionably established a permanent presence on the shelves of every supermarket bakery section, but they haven't really infiltrated our tea and biscuit tradition. Delicious though they may be, they're too soft to merit dunking, even if their huge circumference wasn't prohibitive in the first place.
So no, the biscuits of yesteryear reign on as the accompaniments of choice to our elevenses, or any other time we feel in need of a between meals pick-me-up. It continues to be the familiar Digestive, Rich Tea, Ginger Nut, Bourbon and Custard Cream that are most commonly picked as favourites, though the Hobnob, a comparatively recent addition harking back merely to the 1980s, has also found its way onto the list of national biscuit treasures.
So out of these staples of the British biscuit world, which has been available to accompany a cup of tea the longest? Peek Freans began producing Bourbons at their Bermondsey factory in 1910, although they went by the name of Creola at first. Custard Creams made their debut a couple of years before that in 1908. McVities began producing Digestives as long ago as 1892, with the much loved chocolate coated version appearing in shops from 1925. Incidentally, Digestives got their name simply on account of being considered an aid to digestion due to their baking soda content, which was commonly used as an antacid. Going back further still, Carr's Biscuits were the instigators of the first commercially produced Ginger Nuts in 1850. However, the forerunner to the Rich Tea goes all the way back to the 1600s, when it was a light snack popular with the wealthy of Yorkshire.
There's a good chance we still haven't mentioned your favourite. Perhaps it's the Jaffa Cake, which followed the chocolate digestive in 1927. Is it really a biscuit though? There's a legal issue at stake here. Chocolate covered biscuits are classed as a luxury food item and as such are subject to tax, whereas plain biscuits and cakes are not. In 1991 H.M. Customs and Excise challenged McVities over their classification of the Jaffa Cake as a cake. They probably thought they were onto a winner and who could blame them; they're always to be found in the biscuit aisle after all. Nevertheless, it was McVities who ultimately won. It was proven that biscuits become soft when they're left to go stale. Cake on the other hand goes hard, which is what happens to Jaffa Cakes when they're left out. Happily then, we still get to buy them without the addition of VAT.
More on biscuits soon, but in the meantime we hope we've whetted your appetite for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit...or two!