Daily Archives: April 9, 2011

I’m English so I drink tea

“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.”  ~Author Unknown

Growing up it seemed that the adults were always drinking tea and the little brown teapot above is exactly the same as the one my Mother had, the one my Grandmother had and from this distance, it seemed that each of my aunts had the same teapot.

During and immediately after the Second World War tea was rationed and so they didn’t just make another pot of tea when the pot was empty they added hot water.  The tea was left to ‘steep’ for a long time so that the dark brown color could come through.  And of course, it was leaf tea – no tea bags available then. And there was a ritual to making tea.

First the water always taken from the cold tap, was brought to the boil  It had to be watched because usually the kettle sat on the stove and there was no automatic turn off.  Whistling kettleOur kettle was a whistling kettle – the noise when the water came to the boil was enough to frighten anybody. Then  the pot was rinsed in hot water.  Note here from Mother – ‘always take the pot to the kettle, never the kettle to the pot’.  All these years later I don’t know why; I do know we just did it that way.  Then when the pot was rinsed out the tea leaves would be measured into it from the tea box, water was added and then the tea cosy was put on the pot, the pot on the tray and tea was ready to be served. If you don’t know what a tea cosy is click here.  You will even get instructions on how to make one.

Tea cup and saucerCups of tea were offered and drunk at every opportunity it seemed.  But we children were never offered any.  I think I was probably about 13 before I got my first taste of tea and I remember that I didn’t like it!

Tea has a different taste wherever you happen to be in the world.  London water is so hard that tea is almost bitter, while tea made in Glasgow is sweet.  Glasgow’s water (at least when I lived there 40 years ago) was among the purest in the world.

As children we eagerly looked forward to afternoon tea after school.

Victoria sponge cakeIt always seemed to have a Victoria sponge cake on offer – perhaps that is all Mother could make with the rationed ingredients.


Here’s a potted history on tea:

  • According to legend, tea was first discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC when some tea leaves floated into a pot of boiling water. It wasn’t until the mid-1600s, however, that tea finally reached England. Due to its sale being controlled by trade monopolies, and that it had to be imported from China via boat traveling around the Cape of Africa and then north to England, it was a rather costly commodity.
  • The first known record of tea being imported into England was the charter granted by Elizabeth I to The East India Company.
  • The first merchant to sell tea was Thomas Garway who offered it in both a dry and liquid form at his coffeehouse in Exchange Alley in London. The coffee houses proved very popular and by 1700 and there were more than 500 in London.  By the middle of the 18th century, tea replaced ale and gin as the nation’s drink.
  • As with most customs in England, when having tea became an accepted practice of the Royals, it then spread down to the working classes.

Because it was so expensive the loose tea was kept in a locked box to stop Victorian tea caddyservants from stealing it.  In some instances these were very elaborate.

On a hunt to purchase a Christmas present for my late husband I came across a delightful Victorian silver tea caddy.  (Picture will come later when I have renewed the batteries in the camera.)

So now I am off to have breakfast – 8.30 am on Saturday morning here in New Zealand – and am about to make myself a pot of tea to have with my toast.

Tea pot

Toast and marmalade






Tea! thou soft, thou sober, sage, and venerable liquid,… thou female tongue-running, smile-smoothing, heart-opening, wind-tippling cordial, to whose glorious insipidity I owe the happiest moment of my life, let me fall prostrate.
~Colley Cibber,
1671  1757) English actor-manager, playwright

and Poet Laureate.

And from Lu Tong,  790–835  Chinese poet of Tang Dynasty known for his lifelong study of the “Tea Culture“.

The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat,
The second shatters the walls of my loneliness,

The third explores the dry rivulets of my soul
Searching for legends of five thousand scrolls.

With the fourth the pain of past injustice vanishes through my pores.

The fifth purifies my flesh and bone.
With the sixth I commune with the immortals.
The seventh conveys such pleasure I am overcome.

The fresh wind blows through my wings

As I make my way to Penglai.

LU TONG, Thanks to Imperial Censor Meng for His Gift of Freshly Picked Tea

And I make no apologies for the fact that there are two quotes in ending today.  I could not choose between them.