'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.
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. [teajunkie.me] 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]