Don’t Tread on Britain’s Tea

A very British tea store! (ETS image)
A very British tea store! (ETS image)

There are a few countries whose citizens drink more tea than the British but none of them roll right off the tip of the tongue. If you’re like me, when you think of great tea-drinking peoples throughout history you probably think of the British. Which is why the recent flap over tennis and tea there probably should come as no surprise.

It all has to do with Wimbledon – you’ve probably heard of it. Apparently it’s something of a tradition, at this oldest of the world’s tennis tournaments, to bring your own eats. Given that the attendees are mostly British their drink of choice often turns out to be tea. If you buy a cup of it on the grounds it can be kind of expensive, at about $3.60 in US dollars. The obvious solution, at least until lately, has been to bring your own tea.

Nowadays though, a ban on vacuum flask containers (of the Thermos type) that apparently went into effect last year, is starting to be enforced and tea lovers at Wimbledon are quite out of sorts to find their containers of tea being confiscated.

As one article in the British press noted, “coolboxes and camping chairs are also banned, but bottles of wine and spirits are permitted.” The problem with such containers and the reason for the ban is the possibility that they can be used in improvised explosive devices. Some of the other banned items on the list are a little more obvious, according to an article from an Australian paper that covered the issue. They include “knives, illegal substances, political slogans, ambush marketing, tents, camping chairs, flares, klaxons and long lenses.”

Not surprisingly, there are still options for taking afternoon tea at Wimbledon (they are British, after all), as you can see at this page at the tournament web site (scroll down). It claims that afternoon tea, which was supposedly invented just about 40 years before the inception of Wimbledon, was served at the very first incarnation of the tournament, in 1877.

Thirty years later, in 1907, a certain Mrs. Hillyard was playing in the event. During a rain delay she apparently overindulged a bit at afternoon tea. Then, when the tournament commenced again, she proceeded to lose and was rather distraught over it all – the implication being that the rain delay and overindulgence at tea negatively affected her tennis game.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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