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All about Tea
The History of Tea


Most of you know that tea drinking originated in China. Way back in the 8th century, Lu Yu said, "Tea... is especially fitting for persons of self-restraint and inner worth." I am sure that describes each of us here.

Back in the 1640s England was involved in a Civil War, which ended in the beheading of their King, Charles I, in 1649. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protectorate of Britain and his brand of violent Puritanism swept over the country. In 1658, tea was first introduced to Britain, but it didnít become very popular then. People had too many other things on their minds. Cromwell died in that year and the country was wondering what to do next. The monarchy was returned to Britain in 1660 in the form of Charles II, son of the beheaded former King. In 1663, Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. Part of her dowry was large chests of tea. Tea drinking then became popular at Court. Tea was very expensive, and not easy to obtain, so was kept in locked chests which are now prized and very treasured antiques. If you watch the British Antiques Roadshow, you often see tea chests of great value. The tea clipper ships began to run between England and the Orient to bring tea to the British people. You can still see one of them in the harbor at Greenwich, England, The Cutty Sark. Tea services from China also were very expensive and the poorer folk, who used tea leaves already boiled twice by the rich, had their tea from pewter or Dutch Delftware. The English pottery business flourished beginning in 1745 as there was a demand for tea sets. Much of the credit for popularizing the tea-drinking habit must go to Josiah Wedgewood from Staffordshire. You have probably seen Wedgewood china. He began making simple earthenware pots then moved to salt-glazed stoneware, and progressed on to the Jasperware with the moulded white classical figures superimposed on the pots.

At this time, tea was drunk for breakfast and after dinner when the family gathered in the parlor to play games or read. The Earl of Sandwich played cards into the night one night and got hungry so asked for some meat to be put between two slices of bread to have with his tea (well, perhaps he wasnít really drinking tea at that moment!). But, the sandwich was invented! It would play a part in later years when afternoon tea became popular.

By the early 1800s, George III had lost the American colonies, where tea had been thrown into the sea rather than having high taxes paid on it without representation in the British Parliament. He had suffered bouts of madness and his son, George, had been declared Prince Regent. Perhaps some of you read Regency Romances which are written about this period of history. The Prince Regent loved all things Chinese and had a beautiful palace built at Brighton, The Royal Pavilion, to display the fine hand-painted silk wallpaper from China which he had been given as a gift. He spent extravagantly but his love of all things Chinese made tea drinking even more popular. This also was the time of Jane Austen and her novels reflect the love of tea. Her contemporary Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish author, liked his tea too. Some people credit him with saying, "Thank God for tea, what would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea." Others credit this deep thought to the Rev. Sydney Smith. Whoever said it certainly enjoyed his tea!

In 1840, it was fashionable to eat a late dinner, somewhere between 8-9 p.m. The Duchess of Bedford began feeling very hungry in late afternoon because it was a long time between lunch and dinner. She began having her servants bring her a pot of tea and some toast fingers and little cakes. The custom spread among her circle of friends and soon afternoon tea was being served all over the British Isles with guests being invited to share the fare. Queen Victoria had come to power in 1837. She loved her tea. She was the first to have her tea served from a silver teapot. Tea tastes better brewed in a china pot, but she was the Queen and liked hers from a silver pot. She would say, "Shall I be Mum?" which meant "Shall I pour?" In the British Commonwealth countries, mothers (who normally pour the tea) are called Mum rather than the Mom we use in the States. It is considered an honor to be asked to pour tea. By the way, superstition says that when two women are having tea together, the second one to pour from the pot will become pregnant and have a red-haired baby. Beware!

At the Ritz Hotel in London, tea is taken in the Palm Court where there are afternoon tea dances on the weekends. I canít dance, but Iíve always thought it would be fun to go there and watch the dancers as I drank my tea. According to "The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea," afternoon tea is the fancy tea; some people think a fancy tea is called a high tea, but the British use high in place of main. We have a Main Street and they have a High Street. High tea in Britain is a farmerís supper served at around 5-6 p.m. It includes things like beef roast or chicken or venison, potatoes, and other evening meal selections. It is the main meal of the day, high tea, main tea. Afternoon tea is served between 3-5 p.m.

It is customary to begin with tea sandwiches, scones (which are pronounced to rhyme with lawns in England are in some regions called skoons in Scotland), fruit breads and muffins then move on to the fancy cream cakes and petit fours. When china was first used for tea, it was very delicate. Milk was put into the cup first to keep it from cracking when the hot liquid was poured in. Now, milk is put in the bottom of the cup first before pouring the tea in, because milk brings out all of the flavors of the tea, so say some people. Others insist the milk goes in after the tea, and still others donít use milk at all. Demerara sugar Ė raw sugar Ė is what you find on the tables in Britain. When you use loose tea Ė the best as the flavor is better and the tea more clear Ė you put the milk in the cup, put the tea strainer across the top, then pour your tea so any loose leaves will be caught. If a tea leaf manages to get through and floats to the top of the tea in the cup, you will meet your true love that day. Another British superstition! Just enjoy your tea however you like it!

Henry James, the author, said, "There are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." When you take tea, you are supposed to relax, let the cares of the world float away from you, take time to reflect and to build friendships. It has been said, "Somehow taking tea together encourages an atmosphere of intimacy when you slip off the timepiece in your mind and cast your fate to a delight of tasty tea, tiny food, and thoughtful conversation." You should leave teatime feeling pampered and cherished. Afternoon tea reaches to the essence of your femininity. Whether you are taking tea with friends, sitting in a candlelight bubble bath with a lovely china cup of tea on the rim of the tub, or curled up before a fire with a good book and a cup of tea, it is a time to savor. It is lovely.


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