Tea and Chinese porcelain came as a set to Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the Dutch East India Company brought them over. At first, the drink was not even recognized. Thomas Garraway, coffeehouse owner, had to actually explain what this exotic beverage even was through pamphlets and advertisements. By 1659, tea was found on every street corner, gaining popularity quickly amongst the British populace.
As seems to be the norm with tea history, it first began as an elite drink. At one point, tea actually cost over $100 per pound due to travel and shipping costs. However, cost soon went down in 1675 and started becoming available in food shops in Holland and France. Demand immediately went up. Between 1720 and 1750, The British East India Company’s tea import more than quadrupled. Fleets dedicated to the delivery of tea developed.
The drink’s ability to warm the imbiber and even help cure the common cold was a huge draw. On top of that, it was easy to make. Drinkers would just put the tea leaves in hot water, allow it to steep and then enjoy. The porcelain tea bowls would sometimes be shipped with the tea so the fashionable could sip in style. This created a whole new market for tea, as Europe attempted to imitate the intricate porcelain Chinese ware.
When the railway expanded, the tea market surprisingly did not meet the demand. This caused tea prices to go up. As tea preparation faced new innovations, the price started going down again. London was able to boast that they became the center of international tea trade during the first half of the 20th century.
Tea gardens flourished for a bit, where tea would be taken outside with guests. They would be entertained by orchestras, food and, of course, the beverage of the hour. Classes were allowed to mix at this time, rather than aristocrats keeping amongst themselves and the middle class in their own area. However, they have since lost their popularity since World War II.
Conducting a British Tea Party:
The famous tea parties, which children seem to love to imitate with their high-end plastic-ware, are still popular to this day. Typically, the British drink black teas served with milk and light snacks. Stronger teas are served with lots of milk, sugar and served in a mug, a style called builder’s tea. Some people drink six cups of tea a day or more and some employers even allow tea breaks.
There is a difference between afternoon tea and high tea! First, we will focus on general tea protocol.
- Tea is normally drunk from a mug. However, if there is an event that is even slightly formal, porcelain cups and saucers are used.
- The tea kettle is brought to a boil and the water is transferred into a tea pot.
- Water is swirled in the tea pot to warm the pot, then thrown out.
- Usually, black loose tea is used, though sometimes tea bags are substituted.
- Water is added to the tea and a tea cosy is placed on top in order to keep the tea pot warm.
- Milk can either be added to the tea cup before the tea is poured or after, depending on the preference of the guest and the host. It is a matter of debate if this changes the taste or not.
- A tea strainer is placed on top of the tea cup before the tea is poured in order to catch the tea leaves.
- Lemon slices (not wedges) can be added to the tea if desired. However, do not add a lemon to tea with milk already in it. It will curdle the milk and result in sour-tasting tea.
- When drinking the tea at a table, it is only proper to lift the tea cup, not the saucer. The cup is placed back on the saucer between sips.
- When drinking tea in a chair, hold the saucer in the non-dominate hand and the cup in the dominate hand. The cup and saucer are held at waist-height or in the lap when not being enjoyed.
- While holding the tea cup, the thumb should be at the six o’clock position and the index and middle finger at the twelve o’clock position. The pinky is gently raised for balance. Never loop your fingers around the handle, nor hold the cup in your hands.
- When stirring the tea, do not swish the spoon around, nor leave the spoon in when finished. Place it on the right hand of the saucer.
Afternoon tea is a tea served in lieu of dinner, taking place between 3:00PM and 5:00PM. Because of social changes and busy work schedules, afternoon tea is more for special occasions rather than a regular event.
Of course, tea is still served during afternoon tea. It tends to be the black, loose tea served in the tea kettle. However, the snacks are presented on a three-tier stand. The first stand holds the scones. The second one, the savories and tea sandwiches. Finally, the third stand holds the sweets. The food is eaten in order of tier.
High tea, also known as “meat tea,” is a heartier meal served typically between 5:00PM and 7:00PM. Rather than the snacks and finger foods, meat dishes are served. The meal got its name since the meal was served at a high table.