Skip to Content

What Is Builder’s Tea?

Builder’s tea is one of the most popular forms of tea in Britain, and you can get a cup pretty much anywhere in the country. However, people outside the United Kingdom might not know what people mean when they make a cup of builder’s tea since it isn’t a common term outside of the region. 

Builder’s tea is a strong, inexpensive tea brewed from tea bags that is traditionally served dressed with milk and sugar. Irish breakfast tea is a popular blend for use in builder’s tea since it includes a lot of Assam tea that gives this brew its distinctly strong, rich flavor. 

Even though builder’s tea isn’t a recognizable name for strong tea outside of Britain, many people around the world take their tea this way. You might be making builder’s tea without even knowing it! Read on to learn more about this iconic British brew and how you can make a pot of it at home. 

History of Builder’s Tea

There’s no exact date when the term “builder’s tea” came around in Britain, but it’s a colloquial or slang term, so everyone’s definition of what makes up a cup of builder’s tea is slightly different. Since the term is associated with the working class and sprang up out of the vernacular, there’s no real way to tell when people began using it. 

Why Is Builder’s Tea Called Builder’s Tea?

Builder’s tea is called builder’s tea because it’s the type of tea most commonly consumed by builders and other laborers on their breaks. British workers tend to drink several cups of black tea throughout the day for its soothing ritualistic properties. The caffeine it contains also allows them to maintain their focus. 

While the definition of what makes a builder’s tea might vary slightly from person to person, there are a few characteristics that all builder’s tea will have: 

  • Strength: Builder’s tea is brewed to be stronger than the average cup of tea consumed in Britain or elsewhere in the world. This strength is because loose leaf tea is often used and the steeping time for the tea is relatively long (two to five minutes).
  • Flavoring: Builder’s tea is almost always served with heavy amounts of milk and sugar to help calm down the bitter notes in this strong brew. This is in contrast to how tea is consumed in America and elsewhere in the world, with either a little sugar and no dairy, or no additions at all.
  • Brewing: Unlike teas that are prepared in a pot, builder’s tea is typically brewed in individual cups with boiling water and tea bags. This also allows a builder’s tea to easily serve several workers at once with a ready-made drink. 

The methods used to make builder’s tea contribute a lot to the final flavor you get if you prepare it this way. But you should also look into getting the right tea blends and varieties if you want to make an authentic cup of builder’s tea. 

builders tea history

What Kind of Tea is Used in Builder’s Tea?

Traditionally, builder’s teas have a heavy proportion of strongly-flavored Indian teas such as Assam. They may also feature other rich tea varieties such as Kenyan or Ceylon cultivars. This makes Irish breakfast teas and English breakfast teas two of the most popular choices for using as a base in builder’s tea. 

  • Irish breakfast tea: Irish breakfast teas are heavy on the Indian tea, which gives them a rich malty flavor and a reddish liquor.
  • English breakfast tea: English breakfast teas are similar to Irish breakfast teas, but they tend to incorporate more Ceylon and Kenyan tea in their blends compared to Irish breakfast tea. 

The only real requirement of builder’s tea is that the base tea is a black tea. However, if you’re trying to brew an authentic pot of builder’s tea, you’ll want to look for a tea blend that is Assam-heavy with a rich, full-bodied flavor. 

How to Make Builder’s Tea

Builder’s tea is one of the most common preparations for tea across Britain, so it’s easy enough to make at home without any special tools knowledge. Here are the steps you should follow to make a batch builder’s tea for your next tea break

  • Boil a pot of water, enough to fill however many cups of tea you’re planning to make.
  • For each mug of tea, place two black tea bags along with a few tablespoonfuls of sugar . The amount of sugar each cup takes will depend on the individual’s preference for sweetness. At this point, you can also pour some milk into the mug or you can wait and add milk after the tea is brewed.
  • Once the pot of water is boiling, add the boiling water to each tea cup and stir with a spoon until mixed. Stir and agitate the tea bag for roughly thirty seconds before removing it, until the tea takes on a deep tan color. If you haven’t added milk, add it now. 

Making builder’s tea is one of the easiest tea preparations out there as long as you have the right ingredients. 

builders tea break

How to Serve Builder’s Tea

Traditionally, boiling the water and setting up cups for builder’s tea during the day is a shared task that is used to promote camaraderie amongst workers of the same group or class. In many cases, the apprentice or youngest worker in the group will be responsible for making the tea, or the duty will be divided up and rotated amongst the entire group. 

If you want your guests to feel like they’re drinking an authentic builder’s tea, set up each person’s cup for them and serve the hot water to each of them in turn. 

Builder’s tea is similar to a Japanese tea ceremony in that it is meant to symbolize a certain gracious servitude towards others. It’s also meant to evoke a cozy feeling to help improve worker morale during the day. Try to bring that spirit to the table when you’re brewing up a pot of builder’s tea for friends, family, and coworkers. 

Builder’s Tea is a Special Brew

The term “builder’s tea” might not be commonly used outside of the United Kingdom, but chances are if you’ve had black tea then you’ve made a cup the builder’s way before. 

If you haven’t tried this variation on tea, be sure to brew some authentic builder’s tea up for your next tea session to see what all the fuss is about! 

What to save this What is Builder’s Tea post for later?  Save it to your favorite Pinterest board and pass it on!

what is builder's tea graphic