Thursday, May 7, 2020

Memories of British Tea Drinking

There are many ways to enjoy tea. Curling up by the fireplace on a cloudy afternoon with a cup of tea can be the highlight of the day. Just because it’s solitary tea doesn’t mean it should be dreary. Arrange some light food in a plate, make it look pretty and enjoy this quiet time by yourself. Kids can also entertain themselves with tea just like the young children in the “Mary Poppins” or “Alice in Wonderland” classic movies. 

Brewing the Perfect Cuppa 
(tea, that is)

To some, drinking a cup of tea is a ritual. To others, it is simply a time to spend a soothing afternoon with friends. Quite easily, visions of scones, strawberry jam, wafer-thin sandwiches and china cups come to mind. Regardless of what images partaking of tea evokes, people have long been fascinated by this charming custom. The popularity of drinking tea has both diminished and flourished since the Chinese discovered it as a suitable beverage about 4,000 years ago. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nung, who was known as the Divine Healer, made it a habit to drink only boiled water after determining that those who did were sick less often. One day, sitting by a tea bush, some tea leaves found their way into his pot. Seeing that the resulting aroma was pleasant, Nung drank his first cup of tea. But it wasn’t until the 16th century that tea was introduced to Europe by Portuguese merchants who brought silks, spices and other Eastern items into the continent. 

While other European countries found tea flavorless in the mid-1600s, England and Russia found it soothing and relaxing. In the 17th century, tea drinking found its spot in English coffee houses. By the mid-1700s, tea gardens emerged. These lush, landscaped gardens were a meeting ground for the fashionable to chat, drink tea and gossip. By the end of the century, however, tea gardens were less prevalent and tea drinking developed into an at-home activity in England. What is now known as afternoon tea can be attributed to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who realized this ritual was a way to satisfy her appetite during the void between lunch and dinner.

In those days, a day’s worth of meals consisted of a substantial breakfast, a light lunch and a heavy dinner late in the evening. Feeling a bit faint around five o’clock, the Duchess resorted to drinking tea and petite sandwiches to make it to dinner. This sort of “afternoon tea” is quite a contrast to the “high tea” served then in working class homes where hearty cold meats, breads and cheeses were served when the men returned home from work. Although Coronadan Jan Lichty hasn’t lived in England since 1939, her memories of having tea are still fresh in her mind. “The tea I remember, was with the dainty little cups, cucumber sandwiches and wafer-thin sandwiches,” Lichty said. “As children, we had tea, milky tea, with cakes and snacks.” 

“Don’t forget the war changed everything,” she said. “It was a different world then.” Barbara Taylor, a Coronado resident for most of her adult life, remembers growing up in war-torn England and having tea with her family. During the war, Taylor said a lot of English families would sit down for breakfast with a cup of tea and other breakfast items. At school. Taylor would have a heavy meal with tea at mid-day. After school, Taylor would come home to find tea, bread and butter, jams and cakes to share with her parents and sister. Sometimes, cheese or egg dishes made their way onto the table. “Five o’clock was quite a typical time for an English (working class) family to have tea,” Taylor remarked. 

Sarah O’Sullivan, who grew up in the southwest region of England, also remembers sitting around the dinner table and having traditional tea with scones, clotted cream and jam. “That’s extremely fattening,” she joked. “It’s one of the things we miss here.” Like Taylor, O’Sullivan recalls having a hearty lunch at mid-day and coming home for tea around 5 p.m. She used to come home for lunch at times, since her Dad owned a shop nearby and could join them. “It was nice because it was family time, we all sat down together,” O'Sullivan recalled. “Times have changed a bit now in England," Taylor pointed out. “Customs have shifted somewhat.” Most men are no longer able to come home from work at mid-day to have their cooked meal with tea. That tradition has slowly faded. “England is much more like America, more on the run,” added O’Sullivan, who’s been living in Coronado for the past two years. Her husband, who is part of the Royal Navy, is on an exchange with the U.S. Navy. Nowadays, O’Sullivan and her family have their main meal in the evening when her husband returns from work. “Sunday is the closest you get to having an afternoon tea.” 

Taylor, who travels to England frequently, still drinks tea for breakfast but now has a lighter lunch. She continues to drink her afternoon tea around 4 p.m. everyday before her evening meal. “I think it gives you a lift,” she said. “It’s a shame more people don’t stop and take a break at 4 o’clock in the afternoon,’’ Having a cup of tea in the afternoon brings back fond memories for Shelia Davis Lawrence who recalls quiet afternoons drinking tea with her grandmother. “I guess it’s a quiet time in the afternoon, a more gracious time,” Lawrence said, “It can grow into an interesting past-time as an adult.” Lawrence added that she sees drinking tea as an activity for all occasions, not as something stuffy. 

There are many ways to enjoy tea. Curling up by the fireplace on a cloudy afternoon with a cup of tea can be the highlight of the day. Just because it’s solitary tea doesn’t mean it should be dreary. Arrange some light food in a plate, make it look pretty and enjoy this quiet time by yourself. Kids can also entertain themselves with tea just like the young children in the “Mary Poppins” or “Alice in Wonderland” classic movies. Tea for two? This is a great opportunity for a couple to cozy up together and share a romantic time together. Power teas are also catching on in hotels worldwide. They’re a great way to top off power breakfasts and power lunches for busy executives. What better way to spend an afternoon with friends than to throw a tea party. Delicate snacks, a good pot of tea and stimulating conversation are sure to be a success. 

“The properness of tea is not in the elegance of the implements or delicacies of the food—it’s how food is served,” Lawrence said. It is this hospitality and graciousncss as a hostess that Lawrence finds pleasing when having tea. Prompted by her memories as a young girl, Lawrence recently invited a group of Brownies for tea at Crown Manor. The experience to share tea with these young girls was something Lawrence said she cherished. “It’s like passing on a part of history.” Lawrence, like many others, prefers tea to coffee, yet drinking coffee has seen a rise in popularity with the British—for all the wrong reasons though. “My husband has learned to like coffee because he can’t stand the American tea,” noted O'Sullivan. Lichty, however, rarely drinks tea anymore because it’s more convenient to make coffee. 

“Once in a blue moon (I drink tea),” Lichty said. “But if I want to make the effort to do tea, I want to do it right ” Which brings to mind the ubiquitous tea bag, which dates back to 1904 when Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started sending his customers samples of his teas in silk pouches. The idea caught on because of its practicality and has even been accepted now in England, according to Taylor. However, it is the way tea is served in many American restaurants that has given tea bags a bad reputation. O'Sullivan said she will never forget the first time she came across tea in the United States. A waitress at a restaurant brought a jug of lukewarm water to her table with tea bags next to it. “I thought, ‘This isn’t tea’,” O’Sullivan said with a laugh. “It tastes peculiar when the water’s not boiling.” Lichty’s great aunt also had a funny encounter with tea bags when they first came out in England years ago. Lichty remembers her great aunt cutting out the top of the tea bag and pouring the tea leaves into the cup. “She tipped it out, she didn’t know any better until I showed her how to do it,” Lichty said. — Stories by Karen Koehler, Coronado Eagle and Journal Reporter, 1991

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia©️ Etiquette Encyclopedia

No comments:

Post a Comment