I’m sure that people can give you a lot of reasons why cups come with a saucer. To make them easier to carry, to protect the table from rings and spills, because it looks good. These are all rubbish. It’s to give you somewhere to put the biscuits. (To clarify for you heathens on the other side of the Atlantic I mean the cookies not the bread.)
Tea and biscuits is one of those combinations that is so good that it seems wrong that they were developed separately. Forget the royal family, the famous reserve and the rampant colonialism. The true British cultural identity can be found in this perfect marriage of brewing and baking.
Biscuits were historically created as a portable and durable food which could be easily taken on long journeys. These were usually pretty indestructible and often needed to be soaked in liquid if you wanted to still have all of your teeth when you’d finished them. This may be the origin of the charming British habit of dunking biscuits in tea before you eat them. (I can’t recommend this process enough. The layer of soggy crumbs you end up with at the bottom of your cup is a particular treat!)
As sugar began to be more readily available the idea of biscuits as something you might actually want to eat became more popular. Biscuits became less like a building material and were eventually considered a treat. The ultimate example of this would be the classic Scottish favourite of short bread biscuits. To make these you mix as much butter and sugar as you can get your hands on with about a teaspoon of flour. They taste as great as you’d expect and yes the obesity crisis is coming along nicely thank you very much.
Don’t let the worrying prevalence of biscuit related injury put you off. Tea and biscuits really is the ultimate British treat, well worth the risk.
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