We British love our cups of tea (also known as a ‘cuppa’).
How Did Tea Drinking Start And What is The Mystique Surrounding It?
The history of drinking cups of tea in Great Britain
Tea drinking in China goes back to the third millennium BC. But, according to Historic UK (www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/afternoon-tea/) it was only during the 1660s it became popular in England thanks to King Charles II and his wife Catherine de Braganza. Since the 18th century the United Kingdom has been one of the world’s greatest tea consumers. An upper class drink in Europe, tea became the drink of choice for all classes in Great Britain and remains so today (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_in_the_United_Kingdom)
How is tea drunk?
There are so many different types of tea, and so many different ways to drink it – certainly too much to explore in this blog!. Some drink cups of tea without milk, some with lemon, some with milk and sugar – there are various combinations. A really strong mug of tea with milk and two sugars, made with a tea bag, is usually referred to as ‘builder’s tea’ referring to the type of tea drunk by labourers when taking a break. Nowadays you can actually buy types of strong ‘builder’s tea’ if you like a really strong brew.
When do I put in the milk?
Real tea aficionados will tell you that tea should be ‘loose leaf’ ie not a tea bag (although most people use tea bags these days) and should be brewed in a tea pot and then served using a tea strainer to catch the leaves. The cups of tea are poured first and then milk and sugar added if required. However! When to put the milk in, before or after pouring, has been the national subject of debate. George Orwell even commented “tea is one of the mainstays of civililsation in this country, and causes violent disputes over how it should be made”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nice_Cup_of_Tea). I am with the milk after the tea is poured group myself as then you can ensure don’t put in too much – I hate milky tea!
Drinking from saucers?
During the 1770s and 1780s tea was drunk from the saucer although then saucers were more like small bowls (similar to how tea was drunk in China). I remember my grandad drinking tea from the saucer!
Sticking out your pinky
There are all sorts of etiquettes involved in tea drinking, for example just lifting the cups of tea to drink and leaving the saucer on the table. Not making a lot of noise with the teaspoon when you stir and then placing the teaspoon carefully in the saucer. That sort of thing. But one of the common misconceptions is that you have stick out your pinky (your little finger) whilst holding the handle of the cup. This comes from when the upper class would eat their snacks with three fingers whilst commoners would use all five fingers. This led to the idea that if you stick your pinky out when drinking your tea it shows you are cultured – obviously not the case! (http://www.cliseetiquette.com/2014/11/21/raised-pinky-fingers-scone-slicing-tea-faux-pas/)
Reading the tea leaves
The art of reading tea leaves is called tasseography (as well as tasseomancy and tasology – tasse coming from the French word for cup). It is a form of divination using the pattern left in tea leaves in your cup that started to be popular in the 17th century. The tea is made without using a tea strainer and then the tea is drunk, any remaining liquid poured off and then the patterns in the tea can be read. My grandmother used to get me to turn the cup upside down on the saucer and turn it three times and then turn the cup over and look at the patterns in the leaves – I don’t remember any great revelations but then at that age I was looking for animal patterns! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasseography also http://www.crystalinks.com/tealeaves.html )
Other uses of the word ‘tea’
Other uses of the word ‘tea’ will be looked at in my next blog which looks at the different names we have for meals in the UK including the ‘tea’ we eat.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!