CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In England

The Tradition Of Tea Time In England

CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In England

But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea ~ Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

There is something quite nostalgic thinking about the great tea time ritual in England. While the way tea culture spread all around the world might not be the best way on account of the overall impacts of colonialism, there is no doubt that tea time is something that is enjoyed not just in England but in many places around the world. There are so many incredible different ways that tea is consumed around the world making it a truly diverse drink.

Today Sarah Orman takes us along an exploration of afternoon tea time in England. She shares her memories of the great British tea ritual and gives us a little insight into the tradition of this wildly popular social activity.CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandFrom Sarah,

It’s 4 PM in the afternoon in England. The light is beginning to fade and dusk threatens to envelop what remains of the day, beckoning a clear Winter’s night that’s sure to welcome Jack Frost. “Would you like a cuppa?” my Mother calls from the kitchen. I pause to consider the question. Didn’t we just have one, I wonder, as I try to recall when exactly I last heard the kettle whistling atop the imposing Aga. “Sure,” I reply. Because why not? CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandI first noticed the vast quantity of tea my family consumed one Christmas several years ago. Having lived in the United States since 2012, many of my British colloquialisms have faded for a more universal language and expression of speech, however, I hadn’t realized that with them I’d also lost my love of a good cup of tea not once, not twice, but upwards of three times a day. That same festive season, I paid close attention to how often the kettle whistled and what exactly prompted its cry. 

The first cup of the day was at breakfast, naturally. For while coffee is indeed a well loved breakfast beverage, tea has and always will steal the show in the United Kingdom.

Ironically, the term “English Breakfast tea” is thought to have origins in Colonial America. The phrase “breakfast tea” has been applied by vendors since at least the late 18th century, however, it is said that an American tea merchant named Richard Davies was responsible for the blend in 1843. There are varying accounts of the exact inception of English Breakfast tea in the U.S., however, there is little dispute that it was the United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria who popularized breakfast tea among Britons, and by 10 AM that morning the Great British tea ritual was well underway in my parents’ household. CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandI found myself wanting to decline the offer of another cup mid-morning, however, determined to rekindle my diminished Britishness, I politely agreed. Distracted with Christmas baking, however, I found that my second tea had gone cold after just one or two sips, and so by the time I was asked again at lunch, I was eager to enjoy a fresh cup. As I finished my cheese and pickle sandwich and drained the dregs from the bottom of my teacup, my Mum filled the kettle once more. “Are you having another one?” I asked with a touch of surprise. “Of course,” she replied completely unabashed. And so cup number four was brewed. 

By 2 PM, the question of more tea was once again feeling like a familiar one & when guests arrived, I gladly obliged to partake in another round. The fresh mince pies I’d baked that morning accompanied the brew and with so much catching up to be had, it wasn’t long before the kettle was whistling once more. “Good cup of char that,” said one of my Mum’s visitors. It took me a second, but when the penny dropped I giggled to myself. Old English slang for tea, the word “char” is believed to have descended from one of two schools of thought. Most sources suggest it’s an Anglicisation of the Indian word for tea (chai) carried to Great Britain during the early days of the British Empire and the trading activities of the East India Companies. Alternatively, other experts suggest it may in fact have come from even further East as the word also sounds similar to the Chinese translation, “tcha.” Either way, perhaps my British character hadn’t completely faded as I fondly recalled using the word myself on numerous occasions. 

That evening, a single cup for my Mum while the rest of us sipped wine after dinner saw the teakettle leap into action again before its final hurrah while watching the 10 PM news. By the time I turned in for the night, I’d sipped as many as six or seven full cups of “char.” In all honesty, I’d lost count! I breathed a sigh of relief, it was safe to say I was still very much British and enjoying tea time in England.CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandWith rediscovering my love for a cuppa that day, I also remembered how unusual it was to serve a good brew without some form of snack. From mince pies, to sandwiches, cookies to candy, every cup was accompanied by some form of food refreshment, for which we owe thanks to Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting; Lady Bedford. The Duchess is best known for bringing about the tradition of afternoon tea after complaining of “having a sinking feeling” some time after breakfast and before dinner. At the time, it was typical for people to consume just two meals a day, and so Anna Bedford decided a pot of tea and a light snack taken privately in the afternoon was the solution. Soon she invited friends to join her and before long, the habit had spread across high society and ladies sipping on tea and nibbling on sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon became the norm.        

Afternoon tea in the United Kingdom today remains largely unchanged and the experience is an indulgent treat when visiting the nation’s capital. With five-star hotels all over London offering their own distinctive taste and style of what is often referred to as “high tea” among its aficionados, the choice is overwhelming. What remains constant, however, are the limitless china pots filled with loose tea leaves, the bountiful savories that begin the feast, and last but by no means least, the towering display of dainty cakes and pastries that are almost too beautiful to eat.CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandLast year I had the pleasure of partaking in traditional afternoon tea with my family at one of London’s luxury hotels. Again, having not experienced “high tea” for several years, I was anxious my love of finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, and endless cups of tea may have faded. Alas, it was just as I remembered it to be and by the time we departed, full to bursting as a result of what Lady Bedford declared a “light snack” I might add, I was as much a lover of tea and all its accompaniments as my Mum. Later that evening my sister nonchalantly declared, “I can’t wait for a cuppa,” on the train ride home. As we walked through the front door 30 minutes later my Mum headed straight to the kitchen. “Who wants a cup of tea?” she called. “Sure!” my sister & I replied together in chorus.CulturallyOurs Tradition Of Tea Time In EnglandWould you like an adventure now… or would you like to have your tea first?” Wendy said, “tea first” quickly, and Michael pressed her hand in gratitude… ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

{Words by Sarah Orman, Website: Cearr Creative, Instagram: @cearrcreative , Photos by @jodiandkurtphoto. location and florals @hopeflowerfarm, event designer @hollychapple }

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  1. Maida Stadtler says:

    What a delightful article. I grew up in Scotland and the multiple daily pots of tea and regular outngs to partake of afternoon teas enjoyed at ritzy hotels were a part of our lives. But i have to say that “high tea” is not a grand or elegant affair despite what one might think. High tea includes a cooked dish with bread and butter and possibly ending with some cake. It is a rather hearty meal by comparison, often served around 6 o’clock to children and to adults when they come home from work and replaces dinner. But keep on enjoying tea in all its myriad varieties, especially in the afternoon, and of course with china teacups, no mugs permitted!

  2. Karthika Gupta says:

    How cool Maida! And I agree drinking tea in china teacups seems to be a treat in itself…no mugs allowed 🙂

  3. bernard hassan says:

    Ms Stadtler is correct in that “high tea.” although invariably misused here in the states, is basically a working-class dinner and includes protein and a cooked dish. If one is going to dinner at 8, it is afternnon tea that tides one over.

    The frst tea was brought to England from China, not India. Speakers of standard Chinese (putongua) of which I am one do say “cha” for tea, but theo riginal word was in the Fujian (Hakka) dialect. The foreign traders were intially permitted only on the south coast. Their word was “tay,” which is retained in the Irish pronunciation from before the great vowel shift.

    Ignorant of Asian modes of brewing, tea in England was first boiled up, the liquid disposed of and the leaves eaten in little cups with a dab of butter with what today would look like coke spoons until someone wised them up. (Anything for fashion, my dears.)

    Both my grandmothers, one born in Scotland, one in Ireland, were tea addicts and never adjusted to their American children and grandchildren who were/are all coffee addicts. This is not to say we never drink tea, green or black, but it is a secondary beverage.