When Did Tea Time Become the Cocktail Hour?

More and more tea times at posh restaurants are featuring champagne and other alcoholic beverages. So much for tearooms being refuges (as they first started out to be) from places serving such drinks. It raises the question of when this transformation started taking place.

Harvey Nichols Cocktail Hour Style Tea Time (screen capture from site)
Harvey Nichols Cocktail Hour Style Tea Time (screen capture from site)

Once upon a time in Great Britain and other European countries, there were pubs everywhere serving up things like ale. These were usually frequented by men and wenches (a wench being a woman of poorer means who had to work in such places to survive or because it was the family business). Then, tea came to Europe (supposedly first by the Dutch and then to the UK) and tea time evolved. Tea was very expensive at first, needing to be transported by ships or by overland routes that were fraught with danger. As tea became more popular, it became more worthwhile to devote whole shipments to it. Before long, tearooms opened up where those not wanting to rub elbows with the ale gulpers, could enjoy a more refined atmosphere and sip their Darjeeling, Oolong, etc., in relative peace.

In the U.S. during the Prohibition Era, teacups became the stealth vessel for whiskey, gin, and other such banned libations. My guess is that this is when the link of having alcohol as part of tea time took root.

Champagne started to be seen as a tea time beverage since some of the sweeter versions go well with cakes and other foods traditionally served then. Here are some places in London that will include champagne if you want. Now, a variety of alcoholic beverages are invading tea time, such as at this specially designed tea time meant to convey the decadence of the 1920s in the US when the Great Gatsby was still trying to impress his darling Daisy.

Tea Mixed with Alcoholic Beverages

Things are getting taken a step further by folks who are manufacturing beverages that actually combine tea with things like beer, vodka, etc. Intrepid tea guy Bill Lengeman has discoursed on several combinations:

It seems to be quite a natural inclination to combine the two. The goal seems either to impart alcoholic beverages with the health benefits said to be in tea or to make tea have a bit of a “kick” to it.

I’ll stick to enjoying my tea without the added “benefits” of these additions. Call me old-fashioned … oh, wait, don’t call me old-fashioned (that’s some kind of alcohol cocktail) … call me conservative (but not necessarily in the political sense), but I prefer tea in my cup (as opposed to that Prohibition Era alternative) and lots of scones with clotted cream and jam. And chocolate. And cake. Yum!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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