In “The Portrait of a Lady” Henry James famously wrote: “Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as the afternoon tea”.
He likens this ritual to a “little eternity”, or the “eternity of pleasure”, and thus it is no surprise for the rest of the world when the British folks sit back with a hot cuppa, biscuits and scones at every opportunity they get.
While people usually associate tea with British culture, tea drinking was actually a tradition of ancient China. When East India Company started to make huge profits from tea cultivation in its colonies like India, tea became a quite popular beverage in England.
For a long time, England had enjoyed a warm cup of joe just like the Americans. Coffee houses were quite popular in England, until tea was introduced by traders who had travelled to China. Coffee houses started to sell tea, advertising about its potency to incite lust and strength. One of the first coffee house owners who started to sell tea in the Exchange Alley was Thomas Garway.
Tea became so popular that the demand for ale and gin reached an all-time low. The government always enjoyed some of the profits from the liquor sales, and so with the intention of increasing the popularity of alcohol, Charles II decided to ban tea in private houses.
But nothing would deter Englishmen from having their tea. This ban was eventually ignored, and the government had no other measure except to impose taxes on tea sales. Tea has remained in popular demand for over centuries in England, and her natives have had enough time to perfect the process of tea preparation.
While the Americans love consuming tea with iced water, sugar and lemon, the English prefer their tea in its unadulterated form. About 98% of Englishmen and women love their tea with milk, and tea drinking is always seen as an elegant ritual that needs to be perfected in every way.
1. When and how do the Brits drink their tea?
Well, there is usually no definite timing assigned to have tea. Whether they are having stormy, bleak or sunny days, Brits love to cosy up with a cuppa usually during morning while having breakfast, during the afternoon, and if need be – in the evening.
The ritual of afternoon tea was actually introduced by Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford. Since the time between lunch hours and dinner (served around 8 in the night) was quite long, Duchess Anna introduced the concept of afternoon tea which she could enjoy with little tidbits like scones, cakes and biscuits.
Another time when having tea is mandatory is when you have guests at your home. Or if you visit someone else at their house, you will be welcomed with a hot cup of tea! Tea signifies hospitality and good wishes.
2. Tea leaves or sachets?
This choice is really personal. A lot of Brits love using sachets because they are mess-free and quick to use. However, Great Britain and England do have their share of tea connoisseurs who love brewing their tea with care and love. The method of tea preparation varies, depending on whether you are using leaves or sachets.
3. How to brew English tea with sachets?
This process is less complicated, and quite quick to use. No wonder most of the Brits love keeping sachets in their cupboard! These sachets come in different flavours, but Earl Grey is probably the most popular choice. To make a hot cuppa with the tea sachets, just follow the easy steps below:
- Boil water. An electric kettle comes in handy
- Place the sachet in the cup, and pour the hot water into it
- Let the sachet sit in for two to five minutes, depending on personal taste
- Once the sachet is soaked, pull it out by its string and pour milk in your cup, add sugar and mix well with a spoon
Your warm cuppa is ready!
4. How to make proper British tea with tea leaves?
This process requires a little more preparation. Keep a nice teapot close by, with a filter inside where you can place your tea leaves.
- Bring the water to boil in the electric kettle
- Place some tea leaves (usually one spoon full for each cup) in the filter
- First pour the hot water into the teapot, and then place the filter (carrying tea leaves inside it) inside the stump teapot. Close the lid
- The flavour from the tea leaves will slowly infuse in the water. Remember to do some research on the type of tea leaves you are using. Depending on its variety, you will need to decide when to take out the filter
- Once the flavours are properly infused with water, take out the filter full of soaked leaves and put the lid on top of the teapot again
- Pour the liquor into a cup and add some milk and sugar (if preferred) to finish preparing your tea
5. How long should you soak your tea leaves in the water?
The answer really depends on the variety of tea leaves you are using.
If you have first flush variety of tea, you should let the leaves soak in water for about four or five minutes. The first flush variety of leaves have a milder flavour, so they need more time to create a nice liquor.
If you have tea from second flush, the taste will be much stronger and should be therefore soaked in water for no longer than three minutes.
6. When should you add your milk?
Actually, the porcelain tea cups from China were very expensive in the 18th century, and would be hard to come by. Porcelain could withstand high heat, but the normal English cups would crack the moment hot tea was poured from the pot. This is why people started adding some cold milk into the cup before pouring the liquor so as to balance the heat.
Usually, if you are using tea sachets, you should let it soak in the hot water first, and then pour in the milk at the end. If you are using tea leaves, it is better to add the milk first and then pour in the liquor. But in both cases, the tea liquor should be brewed separately.
Tea is a very healthy beverage that is full of antioxidants which helps against ageing. It has several medicinal properties also, and is always the best company to have during intervals.
So now that you know how to make tea like the English, you can finally enjoy your cuppa the way it was meant to be! Are you still wondering why Brits are so obsessed with tea?