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“Tea-Drinking at Breakfast” by Leigh Hunt

According to his Wikipedia summary, James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 –1859), better known as just Leigh Hunt, was “an English critic, essayist, poet and writer.” His own work was overshadowed by that of his more famous friends, such as the poets John Keats and Percy Shelley, but he published a number of books in his lifetime. Including The Seer: Or, Common-places Refreshed, which came out in 1840.

It’s a book of Hunt’s essays on such varied topics as pebbles, spring, windows and rainy days, just to name a few. More of interest for purposes of this site is an essay called “Tea-Drinking at Breakfast.” It opens with a rather flowery tribute to the joys of the breakfast table, “a cheerful object” and one that, of course, is “glittering with the tea-pot.”

Which goes on for a bit and then the author inquires of the readers, “do you know how to make good tea?” Fortunately, for those who might not possess this particular skill, he goes on to provide a few tips. If you’re wondering how this works here’s the condensed version – a metal tea-pot, thoroughly boiling water, soft water, and warming the pot before steeping, to name a few.

The perfect cuppa! (ETS image)
The perfect cuppa! (ETS image)

Then there’s that age-old question about what to do with the milk. Hunt recommends putting it in the cup along with sugar before pouring in the tea. All of which – and more – can be boiled down to the following, “boiling, proportion and attention, are the three magic words of tea-making.”

From there Hunt goes on at fairly great length on various tea-related topics, including a discussion of its origins in China and some not so flattering thoughts about the Chinese. And more, all of it delivered in Hunt’s oftentimes rambling, verbose and florid prose. One might also note that the subject of tea and breakfast is not all that extensively treated. But while it might be a little tough to get through it’s yet another document in the long history of tea and thus is still worth a look.

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

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