Thank goodness for Downton Abbey.
The art of drinking tea had been reduced to warm water in a Styrofoam cup or some concoction of berries with candy, soaked in hot water, and sold for $5 as “birthday cake blend”.
But at Downton, the world learned the real deal about tea. We watched Duchess Grantham and Violet Crawley sip (and snip) from china cups; Edit literally crying into her tea (so many times); even the servants “down below’” serving tea to each other in cups with saucers.
The show may be over, but Downton Abbey tea parties remain popular around the world. You can buy, drink or just admire Downton tea leaves, Downton tea sets, and even read Huffington Post blogs about tea terminology so you don’t embarrass yourself in front of Mr. Carson.
I find this fascination with tea amusing. I was given tea to drink as a matter of principle as early as I can remember. It was served in one of my miniature teacups until I turned 12; then I was told it was time for a real cup. It was never more special than Red Rose, served at various times from lunch until bedtime.
My biggest tea influencer was my English grandmother. I asked her once how many cups she drank in a day, “Oh, I say,” she replied in her cockney accent, “13 or 14?”
All I know is that her kettle was always coming to a boil. Her tea pot was not at all elegant; it was, however, china and had one of those aluminum covers to keep it warm. She loved milk and lots of sugar so instead of a separate sugar bowl and creamer, she mixed them together in one small pitcher. Not really Downton style, but then, she grew up in East Ham!
There was no special tea etiquette at her house. We never talked about high tea or low tea or tea of any kind. We did drink it from china cups, served with a tin of homemade welsh cakes .
My grandmother lived on old age security so one year my parents bought her bulk tea supplies for her birthday (ever practical). When I hear the various debates about organic tea, or green tea, or not drinking tea with caffeine, all I can say is that Grandma lived until her mid nineties—and was healthy all her life.
Meanwhile, at our household tea became the code word for various unspoken instructions.
- Shall I put on the kettle? — You must stay for something to eat and drink.
- Let’s have some tea. — I think we should talk about it.
- It must be time for tea. — Don’t know what to do or say right now but we’ll get through this.
- I’m going to bed. — Please bring me some tea (if you know what’s good for you)
When first introduced to my family, my husband learned that when tea is served in the evening, guests should expect to leave once they’d drained their cups. And fittingly, the night my father died, the nurse brought us all tea before we left his room.
These days, my family (including me) drinks tea in mugs (although I have a least 6 teapots and a cupboard full of china cups just in case). I have a weakness for some David Tea herbal blends (not Birthday cake) and chamomile before bedtime.
But at least once a day I make myself a lovely strong cup of orange pekoe, store brand bagged tea. I pour in lots of milk (well, almond milk) and feel that English stiff upper lip fortitude sweep over me. Grandma would be proud.
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”