Student downed 52 cuppas in tea-drinking challenge

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Despite the popularity of coffee bars and espresso machines in recent years, tea still takes some beating as the nation’s favourite ‘cup that cheers but not inebriates’.

For centuries Wearsiders have not only enjoyed a cuppa, but local firms have been more than happy to meet demand.

Andy Dewey with 52 tea cups  equivalent to the amount he drank in less than an hour in 1960.

Andy Dewey with 52 tea cups  equivalent to the amount he drank in less than an hour in 1960.

There’s plenty to discuss in the history of tea and its links to the Sunderland area.

And we can take our own look back thanks to help from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

Business was booming for Sunderland tea shops and wholesalers in the 19th century.

This was clearly seen in the building of Grimshaw’s Elephant Tea House which could be found on the corner of High Street West and Fawcett Street in 1877.

Promoting Elephant tea in the 1890s.

Promoting Elephant tea in the 1890s.

At the end of the century, Chapman’s were selling Breakfast Tea from the Old Arcade and Davison’s were selling Indian Tea from the Central Tea Store in High Street West.

One advert for Davison’s Superior Tea described it as Pure, Pungent, Perfect and Appetising.

Both of these popular blends were priced at two shillings.

But Sunderland and its links with tea go back even further.

Quaker businessman Caleb Wilson was importing tea for his shop in Sunderland’s High Street from as early as 1761.

On Caleb’s death, the business was run by his sons and renamed Joshua Wilson and Bros.

The brothers not only had large warehouses in Lombard Street and Walton Lane in the East End but had a fleet of ships that brought tea to the town from China.

In 1960, Joshua Wilson’s had their own tea taster to get the right blend for the company’s Hallmark Tea.

This was very much a fine art and a specialist job.

Tea tasters worked their way through thousands of batches of tea without ever drinking a cup.

But by the 1960s, one man in the region went to the other extreme and drank copious amounts of brew.

He drank tea in such quantities and at such speed in one sitting that it could have barely reached his taste buds.

All this happened in January 1960 when a student at Durham University took his love of the nation’s favourite beverage to new heights.

He took on the challenge of a tea-drinking session to end all tea-drinking sessions. Andy Dewey, a 19-year-old history student, was talking to friends in the dining room of Hatfield College when the subject got round to tea consumption.

The upshot was that a tea-drinking challenge was made and Andy accepted. The event was organised with military precision with a number of kettles continually on the boil to fill the tea pots.

To avoid wasting time the 6ft 2in student swapped tea cups for pint mugs.

With the room full of supporters the stopwatch was started and the tea challenge got underway.

What followed next was memorable.

Andy downed his first pint in 1 minute 15 seconds.

The second pint took only slightly longer – 1 minute 30 seconds.

The tea continued to flow until the 15th pint was finished off after 52 minutes.

On completing this remarkable feat, Andy said: “I really do like tea. I drink up to six cups at a time with my meals but I don’t intend to become a regular 15-pint man – I don’t like it that much!”

Even the most fervent tea-drinker on Wearside would have struggled to match this achievement.

Fifteen pints – equivalent to 52 tea cups – would take most people more than a week to get through.

Today the Guinness Book of Records no longer include food and drink records because of the health risks to those making the attempt.

Over half a century ago there was no such concerns and although Andy would not have looked forward to repeating the 15-pint session he was willing to take on a challenger if the loser agreed to pay a contribution to the Rag Fund.