The two beverages most associated with England are probably tea and beer. Both are unlike drinks of the same name found elsewhere in the world, and well worth trying on your travels around the country.
Tea & Coffee
In England, if a local asks 'Would you like a drink?' don't automatically expect a gin and tonic. They may well mean a 'cuppa' (cup of tea), England's best-known beverage. It’s usually made with dark tea leaves to produce a strong brown drink, more bitter in taste than tea served in some other Western countries, which is partly why it’s usually served with a dash of milk.
Although tea is often billed as the national drink, tea consumption fell by around 20% in the five years to 2015 and coffee is becoming ever more popular. The British coffee-shop market is worth almost £8 billion a year, but with the prices some coffee shops charge, maybe that's not surprising. A final word of warning: when you're ordering a coffee and the server says 'white or black', don't panic. It simply means 'do you want milk in it?'
Beer & Wine
Among alcoholic drinks, England is probably best known for its beer. As you travel around the country you should definitely try some local brews. English beer typically ranges from dark brown to bright amber in colour, and is usually served at room temperature. Technically it's ale, but it's often called 'bitter'. This is to distinguish it from lager (the drink that most of the rest of the word calls 'beer'), which is generally yellow and served cold.
Beer that’s brewed and served traditionally is called ‘real ale’ to distinguish it from mass-produced brands, and there are many regional varieties. But be ready! If you’re used to the ‘amber nectar’ or ‘king of beers’, a traditional British brew may come as a shock – a warm, flat and expensive shock. This is partly to do with Britain’s climate, and partly to do with the beer being served by hand pump rather than gas pressure. Most important, though, is the integral flavour: traditional British beer doesn’t need to be chilled or fizzed to make it palatable.
A new breed of microbreweries has sprung up over the last decade, producing their own varieties of traditional and innovative brews, usually referred to as 'craft beers'. Outside of the microbrewery's own bar, these are usually only available in bottles.
On hot summer days, you could go for shandy – beer and lemonade mixed in equal quantities. You'll usually need to specify 'lager shandy' or 'bitter shandy'. It may seem an astonishing combination for outsiders, but it's very refreshing and of course not very strong.
Another option is cider, available in sweet and dry varieties and, increasingly, as 'craft cider', often with various fruit or herbal flavours added. In western and southwestern counties, you could try 'scrumpy', a very strong dry cider traditionally made from local apples.
Many visitors are surprised to learn that wine is produced in England, and has been since the time of the Romans. Today more than 400 vineyards and wineries produce around two million bottles a year, many winning major awards. English white sparkling wines have been a particular success story, especially those produced in the southeast, where the growing conditions are similar to those of the Champagne region in France.
Bars & Pubs
In England, the difference between a bar and a pub is sometimes vague, but generally bars are smarter and louder than pubs, possibly with a younger crowd. Drinks are more expensive too, unless there's a gallon-of-vodka-and-Red-Bull-for-a-fiver promotion – which there often is.
As well as beer and wine, pubs and bars offer the usual choice of spirits, often served with a 'mixer', producing English favourites such as gin and tonic, rum and coke or vodka and lime. These drinks are served in measures called 'singles' and 'doubles'. A single is usually 35ml – just over one US fluid ounce.
And finally, two tips: first, if you see a pub called a 'free house', it means it doesn't belong to a brewery or pub company, and thus is 'free' to sell any brand of beer. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean the booze is free of charge. Second, remember that drinks in English pubs are ordered and paid for at the bar. You can always spot the freshly arrived tourists – they're the ones sitting forlornly at an empty table hoping to spot a server.
When it comes to gratuities, it’s not usual to tip pub and bar staff. However, if you’re ordering a large round, or the service has been good all evening, you can say to the person behind the bar ‘…and one for yourself’. They may not have a drink, but they’ll add the monetary equivalent to the total you pay and keep it as a tip.