Tuesday, June 30, 2020

American Tea Etiquette in 1980

In the 1880’s, the Meriden Britannia Company of Connecticut came out with a “self-pouring pots” for American tea and coffee drinkers. They were designed to “turn drudgery into pleasure,” “relieve aching arms” and avoid “soiled clothes.” Is it just me? I had always thought 19th century women were made of stronger stock than these silly two illustrated young women, who found pouring tea to be such the “drudgery.” 

Tea drinking was a fast growing American passion in 1980

Americans are not the greatest tea drinkers in the world. The British Isles, where six pounds of tea a person are consumed each year, has that distinction. But tea drinking is a fast growing passion in the United States, according to Sam Twining, export director for R. Twining & Co. Ltd of England. As ambassador-at-large for England's oldest tea company (1706 is the founding date) and the ninth generation of his family to join the business, Twining has acquired a large store of knowledge about his favorite beverage. And the thing he would most like to tell Americans, he said in a recent interview over a cup of tea, is that to make a proper cup of tea it is very important to have a proper tea pot. 

An examination of the pots on sale in American outlets has convinced him that Americans are as likely as not to end up with a perfectly dreadful pot, regardless of the cost, unless they learn a few things beforehand. A proper tea pot is one which pours without dripping. Its handle is designed so that the fingers go round it without touching the pot which is certain to be hot. The handle should be made separately and put on afterward so that it stays cool to the touch. 

The lid should have a little lug so it doesn't fall off when you pour the tea. Or, the lid may be hinged onto the pot itself to accomplish the same purpose. So that air can get in when tea is poured, there should be a tiny pinhole in the spout. If it isn’t there, a full teapot will create a kind of vacuum so that it is difficult to pour. A built-in strainer at the base of the spout is necessary to catch the tea leaves before they reach your cup. 

A tea pot may be made of earthenware, silver, stainless steel, glass or porcelain. All are excellent materials and impart no aftertaste to the liquid. Aluminum and enamelled cast iron, which chips easily, are not good teapot material. Aluminum turns tea blue and contact with iron turns it bitter and black, says Twining. Most English families have at least two tea pots, a small one with enough for two or three cups and a large pot, holding enough for at least six. “The brown earthenware pot, which we English call a ‘brown betty,’ makes a great cup of tea. It’s excellent for morning tea. But if I were giving an afternoon tea party, I think I’d prefer to pour from a delicate porcelain pot or a silver one that is more graceful,” said Twining. 

Regardless of the type of pot used, make sure it is clean. “The idea that a layer of built-up tannin in the pot contributes to the taste of the tea is disastrous,” he added. “The best tea is made in a pristine tea pot.” For Twining that does not mean that a pot has to be scrubbed to a fare-thee-well with soap or detergent. He advocates a brief rinse in clean water after each use and a regular, four-hour soaking with water and about a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda once a month. 

The English regulate the strength of their tea by the addition of more, or less, hot water. A tea pot and a companion jug of boiled water appear together on the tea tray. Unlike coffee, which tends to get more bitter through the day as it sits, tea stops brewing when the water turns cool. In most pots, this means after about seven minutes. Since the tea is not going to get bitter, unless it is reheated with the leaves, an individual does not have to remove the tea leaves from the pot before serving.

As a nation of coffee drinkers, Americans may not know that coffee cups and tea cups have classically different shapes. The tea cup is narrow at the bottom and wider at the top to emit the bouquet of the tea and to permit rapid cooling, A coffee cup is taller and narrower, said Twining. 

As for accessories for the tea-drinking ritual, Twining is for some, against others. He is against tea cosies, those fabric covers designed to keep the tea pot hot. Why? Tea is supposed to stop brewing when the water cools down. By keeping the water hotter longer, the cosy leads to stewed tea, he said. He does like a new filter pot that accommodates a filter paper and in effect allows the tea brewer to make his own giant tea bag. A lemon squeezer that works like a garlic press is another item of which he approves. 

English tea the meal taken about 5 p.m. each day varies from season to season. In summer, a thin tea such as Lapsong Souchong might be served with cucumber sandwiches or lettuce sandwiches and a light sponge cake. In winter, a strong tea such as Earl Grey would accompany toasted crumpets, hot toast, jam and honey, tea sandwiches, fruit cake and scones. 

Special among famous English teas are cream or Devonshire cream teas and strawberry teas. A cream tea consists of scones, butter, Devonshire or clotted cream, and strawberry jam plus tea. A strawberry tea includes fresh strawberries and Devonshire cream plus tea. Strawberry and cream teas are often taken in small country inns and tea shops, added Twining. — By Barbara Mayer AP Newsfeatures 

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

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