Fancy a Cuppa? An Insight into Tea Drinking Habits from the Mass Observation Project

30 July 2020

Cultural Studies | History

Four months on from us Brits going into lockdown, the BBC has reported that we have splurged on tea, biscuits and good books. Is there anything a good cup of tea can’t solve? Popping the kettle on will always bring a sense of comfort, but what is your favourite time of day to drink your tea? Do you dunk a biscuit or two? Is it the early morning cuppa, or the mid-afternoon pick me up that you look forward to most? I have delved into the directives in Adam Matthew Digital’s newly released Mass Observation Project, to take a look at tea drinking habits in the 1980s. One thing for sure is that there is always an occasion for a cuppa.

In Britain, we drink 165 million cups of tea a day, which is enough to fill about 20 Olympic swimming pools! It is therefore no wonder we have such strong views on how we drink our tea. During lockdown, the research firm Kantar have reported that we have spent an additional £24 million on tea, and if I’m honest, I’m not surprised! That said, a good cup of tea has always been important, and in the 1989 Autumn/Winter directive of the Mass Observation Project, we can see exactly how people enjoyed their cuppas just over 30 years ago. They were asked how many cups they drink a day, and which cup they could not do without.

Respondent number R1452

Image © Mass Observation Archive Trustees. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Respondent R1452 is certainly starting their day in the right way, with a cup of tea in bed. There is something very relaxing about this idea. Interestingly, R1452 drinks lots of tea when faced with work deadlines, which is very common and personally I often find myself making cup after cup without realising. It is a habit which R1452 and other respondents seem to be unable to go without.

Respondent number P414

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Respondent number P414 has a whopping 6 cups a day, an impressive feat. Without the early morning cup they ‘do not see the world in as benign a manner as usual’! What I find charming about these responses is that people genuinely enjoy their morning or afternoon cup of tea every single day, and that it becomes part of a routine. That very much resonates with me, not only for that little caffeine boost but also the comforting feeling of holding a warm mug and sipping away whilst either waking up slowly and starting my day, or getting through a load of work in the afternoon. I haven’t quite made it to 6 cups a day during lockdown, but I am getting close.

I will leave you with some more responses below, and I’m sure their charm will make you smile. With that, it’s time to pop the kettle on!

Respondent number M353

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Respondent number P1009

Image © Mass Observation Archive Trustees. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Respondent number R1452

Image © Mass Observation Archive Trustees. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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About the Author

Emily Stallworthy

Emily Stallworthy

I joined Adam Matthew as a Development Assistant in September 2018. Since then I have worked on developing a number of new and exciting projects. My academic backround lies in the Italian Renaissance, art history and material culture.