How the English love a good cuppa

This article was written by Katie Tucker for The Language List.

It is said that the tradition of drinking tea dates back as far as the 17th and 18th centuries. Afternoon tea appears to have been enjoyed since the early 1800s by the 7th Duchess of Bedford to help her hunger moments as she waited for late evening dinners (The Etiquette of English Tea by Beryl Peters).

Originally, tea was considered a luxury drink, enjoyed mainly by women of the upper class whilst their husbands were at the coffee houses conducting business. Kept under lock and key in ornate tea caddies, tea has since become the nation’s favourite drink. Tea indoctrination begins at an early age, every child irrespective of gender owns a tea set (my daughter has three and a tea trolley just for good measure). Every parent has drunk numerous cups of pretend tea lovingly prepared with milk and sugar too. In our house, even the cats enjoy tea parties thanks to the inclusion of tuna.

Photo of cat tea party

The English might dally with coffee as shown by the rise of coffee shops on every high street, yet go to anyone’s home and the drink offered to you will usually be a cup of tea. From students after a night out on the town, to your burly builder, to your Grandmother, a cup of tea is a must.  There is an ongoing debate on the proper way to make a cup of tea and everyone has a view.  Putting milk in first was historically a sign of being lower class as cheap earthenware cups would crack if the hot tea was initially added.  Now the debate is around the shade of brew, with the creation of ingenious mugs which have a colour palate printed on the inside so you can never make the wrong strength on the tea round for your colleagues.

Photo of olour matching tea mug guide

To really experience the pomp and ceremony of tea, then no trip to London is complete without a visit to Fortnum and Mason to buy tea and various tea paraphernalia. They have been selling tea since 1707 and here you can flood your senses with the beautiful aromas, tastes and sights of a variety of tea leaves.

Smelling tea at Fortnum and Mason

Everyone should experience the delight and decadence of a proper afternoon tea, but beware the cheap and poor imitations that are on offer. I can still remember my daughter’s indignation at being given squirty cream from a can on her scone instead of the proper clotted cream.  The Telegraph’s list of London’s 10 best after teas is a definitive guide.

In the wise words of C.S.Lewis ‘you can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me’.  Go on, put the kettle on and enjoy a lovely cuppa.

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