Do you know who first popularised tea-drinking in British society? No, not Queen Anne, though in my time every schoolchild knew:
Here thou, Great Anna! Whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take - and sometimes tea.
Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock III.7-8
(Giving one a fair idea of how the word was pronounced in the 18th century. The "here" was Hampton Court).
We were taught it as an example of the trope Zeugma; does anyone learn that sort of stuff today?
I digress. The first queen who was so fond of tea was Charles ll's unfortunate wife Catherine of Braganza, who had developed the habit of tea-drinking in her native Portugal.
Tea was so expensive that it became a favourite item for smugglers. In 1785 the government slashed the duty on tea, thus undercutting the smugglers and wiping out their trade in the leaves. It was around this time that people started adding milk to their cups of tea, because quite a lot of it was adulterated with other leaves or already once-brewed leaves and probably did not taste very nice! Sugar had always been a popular addition but that was as expensive as tea itself.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis
Tea was not popular with everyone. John Wesley inveighed against it in 1748. The preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, argued for complete abstinence from tea, on the grounds that it gave rise to 'numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind'. He cited the example of himself, claiming that tea drinking had caused in him a 'Paralytick disorder', which had cleared up since he began to abstain from the beverage. Wesley urged that the money previously spent by an individual on tea should instead be given to the poor, and as an alternative hot infusions could be made from English herbs including sage or mint.
But Dr Johnson was a chain-drinker of tea, his kettle scarcely having time to cool before being boiled again. 25 cups a day was nothing to him, especially in the company of his friend Mrs Thrale.
In the first half of the 19th century, tea was touted as the solution to the perceived excessive alcohol consumption of the working classes and so was promoted by the Methodists as part of the Temperance movement. Later in the century there was a rise in tea-shops, alongside coffee houses, with the former now catering for less wealthy patrons.
This was also the era of the genteel, invariable female, tea-party, indoors or out.
|After Kate Greenaway, Wikimedia Commons|
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
― Henry James,
My second tea within the week took place at this establishment:
It looked like this, apart from the prosecco (though I have to admit the free glass offered on the Bluebell railway was not refused).
Bridget Blankley, who won the 2016 Diversity Award for writing for children, and I had a very good afternoon talking about Amazing Grace and tucking into a tea of finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam and so many cakes that doggy bags were required.
“Wouldn't it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn't have tea?”
― Noël Coward
Red Cross Grenfell Tower appeal