Monday, 4 June 2012

It's Time For Tea!

I decided to use the beautiful new tea set that Papa Bear gave me when we celebrated our wedding anniversary - exactly a month ago today. Isn't it pretty? Today seemed like the perfect day for enjoying a cup of tea together - we're sure our Queen, celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, would approve! I love having an opportunity to use my pretty china - Papa Bear says I have so many sets now that I will soon be able to use a different one for each month of the year! I do have quite a few, it's true, but not quite as many as twelve!  My most precious set is the one that we were given for our actual wedding day - it is beautifully old-fashion with a pretty, delicate pattern of ribbons and pink flowers, but as it is discontinued now, I only use it on very special occasions.  But, do you know, I love this rose-patterned set just as much - it is so sweet, just like my very precious husband, who gave it to me!

Although the tradition of tea-drinking is often associated with English culture, it has its origins in China, and is drunk all around the world in different guises.  The word "tea" derives from the Chinese - "cha", and in our own mother tongue, it is called "chai".  But wherever and whatever it is called, tea is a very popular drink indeed!

What we call "tea" is actually a meal - our evening meal, which we eat at about 5 - 6 pm.  The tradition of calling the evening meal "tea" is an English one - and derives from the Victorian tradition of "afternoon" or "high" tea - a meal of baked goods such as scones, cake and small sandwiches, and often bread toasted over the fire, served in the middle of the afternoon.  This might then have been followed by a heavier meal later in the evening called "dinner" (which is what we call our lunchtime meal, just to confuse everyone who is not from North East England) and then possibly a second, much lighter meal consisting perhaps of bread-and-butter or other simple, plain foods, called "supper", and eaten before bedtime.  We occasionally have a "supper" of more tea, and some biscuits (plain cookies) before we go to bed, but we don't often need this nowadays - in our modern world of mechanical conveniences, we don't burn enough energy to need so many calories each day, and three meals are plenty for most of us.  However, that's not to say that we can't enjoy a proper old-fashioned tea, on a special occasion like our Queen's Diamond Jubilee! 

Of course, tea can be drunk at other times of day apart from in the afternoon!  In England, tea is most commonly drunk in the morning with our breakfast (it is still more popular than coffee - and in our home is drunk exclusively as none of us really ever drinks coffee) and I will then also make a big flask of strong tea for Papa Bear to take to work with him, which he can drink whenever he has a break, along with something like a piece of shortcake or a muffin, which I will have made during the weekend for him to take to work to enjoy with his tea (he is one of the lucky few who still does use up enough energy each day to need the additional calories of snacks like this).  He especially likes shortcake, and I shall share the recipe for that with you soon.  But today, I want to share with you how a cup of tea should be made - properly!

Of course, you will need some proper tea, to begin with ... not teabags, and not herb tea either - both of which are delicious too, but on this occasion you need real proper loose leaf tea - like this brand which we always have as our regular tea (we prefer the taste of this to teabags, though I'll agree, it is a little more messy to wash up!).  The little clip on the left-hand side of the packet is actually a clothes peg with a ladybird on it!

This is how tea-making is explained in my wonderful vintage copy of the "Good Housekeeping" Home Encyclopaedia, published in 1952!  I love this huge volume of home hints and recipes, which Papa Bear and the cubs gave to me one birthday.  It is a huge black-and white illustrated "manual" which would have been treasured by every eager new wife who recieved a copy - and as it was published exactly 60 years ago, I thought it would be fun to share the instructions for making that very English of beverages - tea - on this very special day in our country's history.

From the encyclopaedia ...

1.  Make sure the teapot is clean inside.

2. Boil freshly drawn water (soft water makes darker tea, but many people do not consider the flavour is so good as that of tea made with hard water).

3.  Heat the teapot thoroughly, preferably by filling it up to the top with boiling water.

4.  Empty the pot and add the tea.  The quantity varies according to the type and blend - more is required with China tea than with Indian, for example; an average amount is 2 teaspoons of tea to 3/4 pint water (note - I use one teaspoon per person, plus an extra one for the pot).

5.  Take the hot teapot to the kettle and pour the boiling water onto the leaves, then cover the pot to keep it warm.  The tea should be made as soon as the water boils; water that has boiled for some time is "flat" and spoils the flavour of the tea.

6.  Allow the inufsion to stand for 3 minutes in the case of ordinary Indian teas and 5 - 6 minutes for China or high-grade Indian tea, stirring it once, if desired.

The encyclopaedia also gives instructions for the serving of the tea ...

Keep the tea hot in an insulated pot or by using a tea-cosy.  Sugar and milk or lemon are served with it, according to taste.  If milk is required it is usually placed in the cup first, the tea being poured in afterwards.  Lemon is usually served with China or high-grade teas; it should be wiped and cut into thin slices.

I love the scent of Earl Grey tea and lemon, but I dislike the taste of it, for to me it seems to have a very metallic taste and as it is not served with milk I find it quite bitter to drink.  But it smells so beautiful - of balmy summer afternoons sat in the shade in a garden full of roses and honeysuckle - that sometimes I buy a box just so that I can brew some and enjoy the scent!  (Fortunately Little Bear likes the taste, so it doesn't get wasted).

If you love the idea of a traditional English tea, then Emilie Barnes's book "If Teacups Could Talk", is a wonderful inspiration!  I love the illustrations in this book, and there are lots of great ideas and recipes included as well as Scriptural references and anecdotes, that make this a book that warms my heart just as much as a cup of hot tea on a cold day - you can buy it on and - both new and used. 

Now, it's time for another cup of tea, I think!