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Fellow tea drinkers we must unite; Yes, he loves Guinness. But he loves his tea, too.

Byline: Paddy Shennan

THE world, as we know, is being taken over by Tesco. But Sir Terry Leahy's gargantuan, and still growing, empire is aided and abetted by others.

And it is my duty to name some of them. Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero are among those chains which stand accused of committing more than one serious, anti-social offence.

Apart from being part of an apparent corporate revolution which is seemingly hell-bent on extracting every last ounce of character from our increasingly bland and uniform high streets, they also appear to have driven a once-proud army of tea drinkers underground.

And the situation has become s o grim that another tried, tested and traditional drink - the Great British Pint - looks like it could soon be give n a metaphorical kicking.

For new, utterly depressing, market research suggests that these ( cue me making that noise associated with Spit The Dog) coffee shops are becoming so popular that they could soon overtake pubs in the bestplaces-to-meet league.

Figures reveal that this everexpanding market is now worth pounds 1.1bn and, in the last five years, the number of cups bought in large branded chains has doubled t o more than six million a week.

Even more disturbingly, some 70% of coffee mugs (geddit? Oh, please yourselves) say the price they pay is irrelevant.

I rest my case. All those Cappuccinos, Skinny Lattes, Mochas, Bochas, Dochas and Lochas - or whatever they're called - have robbed millions of punters of their senses.

But other things are being lost, too. Things that we used to value, like choice (a choice of 2,476 types of speciality coffee doesn't count), olde English tea shoppes and, more importantly, honest-to-goodness caffs which celebrate the three Ts: tea, tea and tea.

As someone once said (write in and tell me, if you know who it was): "Tea. It's more than a drink, it's a food."

Too right. And it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a nutritious cuppa. If you go looking for a refreshing morning brew and/or full English in most towns and cities these days, you'll end up losing a lot of shoe leather and a lot of heart.

And after admitting defeat, the only consolation will be to take what's on offer - probably a panini or a ciabatta, accompanied by a Skinny Minny Mocha Bocha.

Meanwhile, the prospect of the coffee house being officially crowned the new "meeting place of choice" for the majority of Britons doesn't bear thinking about. Nor does my own nightmare vision of city centre boozers closing down, only to later re-open as . . . no, I can't even bring myself to say it.

Fellow tea drinkers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains (of coffee shops).

Pour the tea, hold the coffee - and save a dying heritage.

Onwards, upwards (not forgetting to put the kettle on and shout "Tea's up").

Let's drink to victory
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 14, 2005
Words:486
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