TEA: such a small word, the sound of which sums up just one letter of the English alphabet. And yet…what thoughts it ignites at certain times…For tea ‘aficionados’ shopping in the rain, they can’t wait for a cup of the reviving drink, or conversely, after gardening in the hot sun and, for the passionate, it is almost the elixir of life! My late dad was an avid consumer, always eager for a second cup. (Hope there’s a generous tea urn up there, Pop!)
As for the folk lore of the humble leaf, it is said that the Chinese emperor, around 2,737 BC, was drinking boiled water when leaves from a nearby tree fell into his drinking vessel. It was, thereafter, consumed by the Chinese and recorded in the Shang dynasty. The popular drink has since been linked, now and then, to a rich, sometimes macabre, heritage of superstition and stories. But they’re tales for another time. (Eerie sounds coming from the wings…)
Tea first appeared in Coffee Houses in London in the late 17th century via its introduction by the Dutch and Portuguese sailors; it was often smuggled from Amsterdam. The first tea shop opened in 1657 and gathered popularity when Charles II married Portuguese Catherine of Braganza and it was introduced to the Court. After the formation of The British East India Trade Company in Macao, tea became more accessible to the hoi poloi, and was accepted as the national drink in 1750.
In most ‘average’ households in the 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s, more tea than coffee was consumed in the United Kingdom. Since then – after ‘Musical Coffee Cafes’ were introduced to the UK in the 50’s and 60’s, by the Americans, coffee too became very ‘in vogue.’ Nevertheless, tea still remained popular in many households. I can recall my dear Grandma Sarah liking quite stewed, dark brown tea which made her burp like thunder rumbling…She’d always apologise and add “That’s better…” My own mother – after a ‘run in’ with Senna Pods…eschewed tea for ever more, didn’t like coffee and only ever drank water, milk, fruit juice and Cocoa. Oh, and the very rationed… Babycham.
Fast forwarding to my own family unit situation, we introduced our three sons to tea, milk, fruit juice and coffee. Now mature, one drinks only coffee and the other two dislike coffee and only drink tea. So it’s all a matter of taste.
Over the years, my other half and I have been lucky enough to indulge in our fondness for both beverages. Indeed, we nearly bought a Tea Shop… ending up with a small hotel instead. (See earlier posts.)
On our previous travels, how could we forget a trip to the delightful and famous ‘Betty’s’ tea rooms in Harrogate, or their delicious pastries! Then there was a special trip to Paris, where we scoffed tea and the yummy offerings in a superb and memorable coffee shop, and a birthday celebration treat for husband in Vienna where – surely – the waitresses had stepped out of the 18th century? The wealth of adjectives expressed for the fare can be imagined! Lucky, lucky us.
Before closing, I must mention two other worthy ‘emporiums’ (although there were many others!). The first was The Ritz (my Welsh gran would have said “There’s posh.”) where one sister-in-law and I took my dear mum to celebrate her birthday. It rose to meet its reputation with finger sandwiches, dainty cakes and tea galore: the silverware dazzling…Very impressive.
A recollection of the other, memorable, café – within the bowels of a famous, expensive, store: Fortnum & Mason – has me feeling ‘uncomfortable’ again…Let me explain. Same sister-in-law as above and I – making the most of our free Travel Passes to London (by then pensioners) – had window-shopped and were thirsty. We decided to treat ourselves as the reputable store was nearby, so had supped and chomped on some delectable, tiny delights, and were – as was our wont – putting the world to rights… Fully sated, we pushed back our chairs and sauntered over to check out the hand-made chocolates on display. Far too expensive for our purses, we walked on. Checking our watches, we then caught our train and were comfortably seated when a light bulb pinged in my grey matter. “Oh no!” I proclaimed – loud enough to wake a sleeping gent and disturb a third of the compartment… plus alarm my sister-in –law. “Whatever’s the matter?’” she said, paling. “We’ve just had afternoon tea in Fortnum & Mason of all places, and didn’t pay the bill.” You should have seen her face! My conscience had never felt so guilty…
PS. As we lived a long distance from London and, soon afterwards, emigrated to Spain – as the waitress hadn’t given us the bill or even approached us once served – I decided to send the equivalent money to Mary’s Meals, a fabulous charity based in Scotland who feed over a million hungry children a DAY. I think I did Fortnum & Mason a favour.
© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020