Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tea! Tea! My kingdom for a cup of tea!


'I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea'. [Lu T'ung]

 The English love their tea. They drink it at teatime poured from a teapot into a teacup and stirred with a teaspoon.

British teatime in the 1950s.

They have colloquial names for their tea - char; brew; cuppa; Rosie Lee (rhyming slang for tea).

The person pouring tea traditionally says: "Shall I be mother?"

“’A cuppa char, dearie?”
“Don’t mind if I do, ducks. Shall I be mother?”

English gentlemen enjoying a cup of tea.

Tea was first brought to Europe in 1610 by the Dutch East India Company and introduced into England around 1650.

'....afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before...'  [Samuel Pepys 25 September 1660]

London coffee-house (1668) for the consumption 
of coffee, tea and sherbet.

As tea grew in popularity in the Seventeenth Century, so did the irresistible temptation to tax it. 

The first Tax Act on tea was in 1676, and by the mid-1700s the tax rate stood at 119%, providing the incentive for the creation of a new industry - tea smuggling.

'Molls at their Tea' by William Hogarth.
In the 1700s four out of five cups of tea were
brewed from smuggled tea.
[Merseyside Maritime Museum]

By 1830, 10% of the British Government's income derived from duty on tea. [] And by the 1850s tea was being transported from the East onboard high speed vessels known as tea clippers.

'Cutty Sark', the most famous British clipper in 1869.

'Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea'.  [Henry James]

Some more English gentlemen drinking tea.
"I got nasty habits. I take tea at three". [M. Jagger]

In the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries tea became a stereotype of how the world saw the English.

But England's tea obsession went too far when chimpanzees were made to wear human clothes and drink tea at London Zoo in a ceremony known as the Chimpanzees' Tea Party. Changes in public attitudes to the way we treat animals finally led to its demise.

The Mad-Hatter's Tea Party
from 'Alice in Wonderland'

As for the future of tea drinking in England - it does not look good. While the ritual continues among 88% of Britons over the age of 65, it drops to 73% among the 15-34 age group. [Mintel marketing report, 2011]

But it remains a symbol of faith and courage for a nation even if it were faced with nuclear Armageddon....

"The lunatics! They've finally destroyed our planet!"
"Never mind, dear. Have a cup of tea. Shall I be mother?"

"Thank God for tea! Where would the world be without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea". [Sydney Smith]

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