Thursday, 6 August 2009

A nice cup of tea................ by Maggie Bryant

Even though I am an ex pat Brit living in France a vital part of everyday life (la vie quotidienne) for me is a cup of tea, just as it is for the majority of people living in Britain today.
I can’t even think of getting out of bed in the morning until I’ve had my first cuppa and “tea time” chez nous takes place around 3:30 in the afternoon.

Tea is so integral to the British way of life that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t so.

The trend for drinking hot tea in Britain was first introduced in the seventeenth century by Catherine of Braganza a member of the Portuguese aristocracy and bride of King Charles the second of England.As tea drinking became more popular the London coffee houses began to sell both liquid and dry tea but as dry tea was very expensive it could only be enjoyed in the private homes of the very rich.

It was another woman, Anna Maria, the seventh Duchess of Bedford who invented afternoon “tea time” during the middle of the eighteenth century. For the upper and middle classes the evening meal was served fashionably late between seven and eight o clock and so to bridge the gap and stave off hunger pangs her servants would secretly serve her a pot of tea in her dressing room.

The custom soon became popular amongst the aristocracy developing into a social occasion and evolving into high tea amongst the working class and eventually becoming, for them, the main meal of the day.

Over the years certain “rules” have been established for making the perfect cup of tea, Indian loose leaf tea being the most popular. Tea should be made in a teapot made of china or earthenware and the pot should be warmed beforehand. The tea leaves are placed directly into the pot and, so that it can infuse properly, the water must be boiling when poured onto the leaves, the tea should then be left to stand for 3 to 5 minutes.

Finally, the most controversial “rule”, although there are two schools of thought on this point, first pour the tea through a strainer into the cup then add milk.

So, just how many cups of tea are drunk in Britain daily, according to the UK Tea council that would be 165 million or 60.2 billion per year with 96% of those being made using a teabag, just the way I do.

No trip to the U.K. would be complete without a visit to a tea shop and you will find at least one in almost every small town and village throughout the land, as well as in the main cities. In the late 1900’s going to a tea shop was a popular pastime for women and J Lyons & Co opened their first teashop in Piccadilly, London in 1894. Eventually there would be over 200 Lyons teashops around the country although their popularity waned in the late 50’s and early 60’s with the advent of fast food restaurants.

On a visit to London a wonderful treat is taking afternoon tea in the Palm Court of the Ritz Hotel, an experience not to be missed. If you are touring the North of England we recommend Betty’s Tea Rooms, established in 1919 and still going strong, for a taste of Yorkshire hospitality.
Over the years I have had several Quimper faience tea and coffee services and although only one now remains in my collection it does get used from time to time. Time to put the kettle on, I think.
If you would like to know more about this very British tradition, I found the following websites very helpful whilst researching this blog.
and one more just for fun


  1. I'm told if you drink a lot of tea you are called a Tea Jenny, if so then I am one ! I drink tea at breakfast, mid morning, lunchtime, early afternoon and around 4 - 5pm. My own favorite is Earl Grey, but Martin prefers English Breakfast. Recently we have started buying tea by a company called 'Taylors of Harrogate' excellent !
    I'm also what the Queen calls a 'mif', milk in first, it's supposed to be a derogatory expression directed at the lower clases...
    It used to be frowned upon to have tea after a meal in restaurants but with the increase in variety of tea's available now its become acceptable (luckily for me as I'm not that keen on coffee )

    Did you know that one of Nigel la Lawson's (a well known British TV cook) ancestors was Joe Lyons of Lyons corner house fame ?

    I'd like to say that I always drink my tea from Quimper pottery,sometimes I do, but nothing beats tea from a good bone china tea cup

  2. Interesting Maggie. You Brits are the best at 'having tea' but I have good friends here who take time daily to have the ritual of afternoon tea, as well. The fanciest place I ever enjoyed it was at The Plaza in New York, such fun!

  3. Maggie, oh so many lovely Q tea sets! One of my favorite rituals when in Paris is my afternoons at various tea salons. My favorite teas: Mariage Fréres' Marco Polo and Hediard's Au Carmel. I love the ritual of afternoon tea!

  4. Hi, Maggie:
    I've always wondered how to distinguish between French faience TEA and COFFEE sets! Can you explain the differences?
    Thanks, Laverne

  5. Welcome Laverne, you managed it at last!!
    For me it's as simple as "is it a tea pot or a coffee pot? Round or tall?"
    Anyone else care to comment?