Tea stimulates. Tea relaxes. Above all, tea civilizes. From the earliest days, when this beverage was reserved for royalty to modern times when “high tea” has morphed from being an evening meal for the working class to a fancy pinky-pointing expensive affair at the local tearoom, we all experience the civilizing effect of tea.
Drinking tea in Europe resulted in adding another meal to the day, usually between lunch around noon and dinner around 7 or 8 pm (sometimes even as late as 9 pm). Along with this teatime with it’s teas and cakes and buttered bread came a whole set of rules of behavior, a tea etiquette. At home teas became a sort of “rotating” responsibility, with ladies taking turns on who would stay home to be hostess and who would make the rounds as guests.
Tea dances became popular around 1919 and involved younger tea drinkers. They would gather in the early evening (5 to 6:30 pm) in a large room or hall that had tables and chairs arranged around the edges of the room, leaving the floor open for dancing. Tea and snacks were served at the tables, and the young men were on their best behavior to impress the young ladies.
Of course, being civilized doesn’t just mean dances and good manners. Those things certainly help and can make tea more enjoyable. There are also the “civilized” teawares, those more delicate and that therefore encourage gentle sipping as opposed to rough gulping. Sipping from a nice cup and saucer brings with it an air of ease and taking a bit of time, not rushing. Gulping from a mug seems more hurried and has a “get it done and get on with things” air about it.
Around the world, tea is a way to bring people together in a positive way that I personally consider civilized. From gathering around the samovar in Russia to sharing mint tea in Morocco to sharing a quick afternoon tea with desserts in Paris or Amsterdam or London or Frankfurt, tea symbolizes closeness, friendship, familial bonds, and just downright togetherness. Now, doesn’t that sound civilized?
Tea is also part of various philosophies and rituals around the world. A tea ceremony in Japan shows respect for others. Buddhist traditions help us reach for the better parts within ourselves and share them with others. In fact, the very act of stopping our daily activities to steep and enjoy a cuppa tea can give us time to reflect on our lives and what is most important to us.
Now, that’s civili-TEA!