British tea culture


British tea culture

The British are the second largest per capita tea consumers in the world, with each person consuming on average 2.1 kg per year. [ [http://www.foodanddrinkeurope.com/news/ng.asp?id=17656-britons-have-less Britons have less time for tea ] ] The popularity of tea dates back to the 19th century when India was part of the British Empire, and British interests controlled tea production in the subcontinent. It was, however, first introduced in Britain by Catherine of Braganza, queen consort of Charles II of England in the 1660s and 1670's. As tea spread throughout the United Kingdom people started to have tea gardens and tea dances. These would include watching fireworks or a dinner party and dance, concluding with a nice evening tea. The tea gardens lost value after World War II but tea dances are still held today in the United Kingdom.

Tea is usually black tea served with milk (never cream) and sometimes with sugar. Strong tea served with lots of milk and often two teaspoons of sugar, usually in a mug, is commonly referred to as "builder's tea". Much of the time in the United Kingdom, tea drinking is not the delicate, refined cultural expression that the rest of the world imagines—a cup (or commonly a mug) of tea is something drunk often, with some people drinking as much as 6 cups of tea a day. This is not to say that the British do not have a more formal tea ceremony, but for the working class of the United Kingdom, tea breaks are an essential part of any day. Employers generally allow breaks for tea and sometimes biscuits to be served.

British Tea Ritual

Even very slightly formal events can be a cause for cups and saucers to be used instead of mugs. A typical semi-formal British tea ritual might run as follows:

# The kettle is boiled and water poured into a tea pot.
# Water is swirled around the pot to warm it and then poured out.
# Loose tea leaves are then added to the pot while the kettle is reboiled.
# Water is added to the pot and allowed to brew for several minutes while a tea cosy is placed on the pot to keep the tea warm.
# A tea strainer, like a miniature sieve, is placed over the top of the cup and the tea poured in.
# The straight black tea is then given to guests and they are allowed to add milk and sugar to their taste.
# The pot will normally hold enough tea so as not to be empty after filling the cups of all the guests. If this is the case, the tea cosy is replaced after everyone has been served.

Whether to put milk into the cup before or after the tea has been a matter of some debate and has traditionally been seen as a class divide. Working classes who could not afford good quality crockery would add milk first to ensure that the sudden increase in heat would not crack the cups, whereas middle and upper classes who did not need to worry about this would add milk afterwards so that guests would be able to take the tea as they personally preferred it.Fact|date=July 2008 This latter tradition has been considered the correct one according to etiquette. However, some hold that adding milk second tends to scald the milk.

There is also a proper manner in which to drink tea when using a cup and saucer. If one is seated at a table, the proper manner to drink tea is to raise the teacup only, placing it back into the saucer in between sips. When standing or sitting in a chair without a table, one holds the tea saucer with the left hand and the tea cup in the right hand. When not in use, the tea cup is placed back in the tea saucer and held in one's lap or at waist height. In either event, the tea cup should never be held or waved in the air. [ [http://www.seedsofknowledge.com/etiquette.html FAQ about Afternoon Tea] ]

Drinking tea from the saucer (poured from the cup in order to cool it) was not uncommon at one time but is now almost universally considered a breach of etiquette.

Tea as a meal

"Tea" is not only the name of the beverage, but of a late afternoon light meal, irrespective of the beverage consumed. Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford is credited with the creation of the meal circa 1800. She thought of the idea to ward off hunger between lunch and dinner. The tradition continues to this day.

There used to be a tradition of tea rooms in the UK which provided the traditional fare of cream and jam on scones, a combination commonly known as "cream tea". However, these establishments have declined in popularity since World War II. In Devon and Cornwall particularly, cream teas are a speciality. "Lyons Corner Houses" were a successful chain of such establishments. It is a common misconception that "cream tea" refers to tea served with cream (as opposed to milk). This is certainly not the case. It simply means that tea is served with a scone with clotted cream and jam.

Industrial Revolution

Some scholars suggest that tea played a role in British industrial revolution. Afternoon tea possibly became a way to increase the number of hours labourers could work in factories; the stimulants in the tea, accompanied by sugary snacks, would give workers energy to finish out the day's work. Further, tea helped alleviate some of the consequences of the urbanization that accompanied the industrial revolution: drinking tea required boiling one's water, thereby killing water-borne diseases like dysentery, cholera, and typhoid. [ [http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/savage/tea.html Tea and the Industrial Revolution ] ]

Tea cards

In the United Kingdom a number of varieties of loose tea sold in packets from the 1940s to the 1980s contained tea cards. These were illustrated cards roughly the same size as cigarette cards and intended to be collected by children. Perhaps the best known were Typhoo tea and Brooke Bond (manufacturer of PG Tips), the latter of whom also provided albums for collectors to keep their cards in. Some renowned artists were commissioned to illustrate the cards including Charles Tunnicliffe. Many of these card collections are now valuable collectors' items.

References


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