Growing up in England, the ceremonious making and imbibing of pots of tea was practiced not only because it was the traditional beverage and drunk at every given opportunity, but it was also offered to guests by the host as common courtesy on entering the home. As well as being an established part of social intercourse, drinking tea was very much a problem solver and of paramount importance when working out problems that one had at any given moment.
Almost ritualistic in nature, tea magically held the answer to all problems, real or imagined, and was relied upon to make one feel more at ease. When the need arose, the best China tea service was carefully taken from the cabinet to serve as a special element in the problem-solving ritual. The fine bone China worked well for this purpose, as English tea such as the full-bodied flavor of PG Tips or Tetley tasted delicious when poured into delicate bone China teacups edged with gold leaf and adorned with hand-painted floral designs.
Looking back on the art of tea-making and the use of special vessels from which to partake of this precious liquid; the entire tea-making rite made those involved feel close and special, thus forming a solid cement for friendship and bonding. Many pots of English tea were consumed while “mulling over” problems and coming to mutually satisfactory solutions or arrangements.
The kettle was “put on” when one was upset or bewildered, tired or angry; it didn’t matter which kind of emotion was being felt; tea would help influence calm and make one feel oneself again. When the kettle was almost at a full rolling boil, some of the hot water was poured into the teapot warming it before the tea or teabags were added. Depending on how large a teapot one was using, the quantity of tea used was one teabag per person and one for the pot. When the kettle “whistled” signaling a full rolling boil, the water was poured over the tea and allowed to brew, or infuse, for three minutes. The tea was poured slowly from the fine China teapot into the ornate teacups sitting on their matching saucers, and optional milk and sugar were added to taste.
Cream off the top of the milk was offered as a special treat when milk was still delivered to one’s doorstep. Homogenized milk was just beginning to get popular and had a red foil top. Jersey milk had a gold foil top; our milk had a silver foil top and the cream rose to the top of the glass bottle. The birds, I remember, would peck holes in the foil if one left the milk on the doorstep too long.
Tea drinking is just as popular in England as it has always been; it truly is the great English tradition.