I love the whole ritual of tea drinking.
In my house, ‘How do you take it?’ and ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ is often said. As a child, I drank invisible tea poured from tiny plastic teapots with Panda and Barbie.
Years later, when I add milk to very strong jasmine tea, my horrified great uncle would ask in his Hokkien dialect, ‘What are you doing to the tea?’ Lately, lovers’ quarrels would be diffused (infused?) with a mug of tea, always punctuated with a ‘Let’s never fight again.’
In honour of afternoon tea and cream tea season, as promised, here is the first of many posts on Tea etiquette or “eteaket”. Let us start with what I like to call “different ways to have tea”.
1. Afternoon tea– The most decadent way to have tea. This is the tea one has in a London hotel or Bettys in York or if you are Mary Berry, in your magnificent garden. It is always served with scones, crustless sandwiches and the most delectable cakes. If you are thinking of having afternoon tea alone, well, perish the thought. This is a treat to be shared with the people you love the most.
Do not call it “high tea”
During the Edwardian Era, the name “high tea” referred to an evening snack which the staff ate, because it consisted of a substantial meal of meat followed by cake, and was eaten on a high wooden table. Our friends from the other side of the Atlantic misinterpreted it as a name for glamour and richness.
Champagne afternoon tea– as above but with a glass or two of bubbly. I prefer pink champagne for a touch of An Affair to Remember.
Gentleman’s afternoon tea– for the most discerning of gents. It’s afternoon tea with meat pies served with whiskey, and a cigar for afters. My friend Laurie, connoisseur of all fine things in life, recommends the Gents Afternoon Tea at the rooftop of the Sanctum Soho Hotel.
2. Cream tea– a less sophisticated afternoon tea, but no less special. It’s always taken with scones and clotted cream. (Jam or treacle is served as well, see variations below.) It is sometimes called ‘Devonshire cream tea’ or ‘Cornish cream tea’ in some Commonwealth countries. I tend to have cream tea when I have house guests, at country estates or a tea room.
If clotted cream is not available, do not be tempted to use whipped cream or God forbid, squirty cream. Avoid further disappointment and bake yourself some madeleines or cupcakes to go with your tea. I am grateful that good quality long-life clotted cream is now available. We can now have cream teas at a moment’s notice.
Devon cream tea– the freshly baked scone is sliced in half, covered in clotted cream then topped with jam.
Thunder and lightning– as with the Devon Cream Tea but with treacle or golden syrup instead of jam.
Cornish cream tea– Jam is spread first, then topped with the clotted cream (see photo below). To help you remember which is which, think, “Cornish Cream Top”, if the cream is on top of the jam, it’s Cornish.
3. Teapot tea– A self-respecting household keeps a tea set of bone china, as extravagant as you dare, for times of pure luxury. (Compare an inexpensive tea set with a Wedgwood, both are beautiful). I myself have inherited mother’s kitsch floral tea set.
There are moments for tea in mugs and there are other moments when you can want a proper tea in dainty cups. This is the tea set that comes out when one wants to feel indulged or when a favourite aunt comes for a visit. Loose leaf tea and a strainer is called for on this occasion. Have a some all-butter shortbread or petit fours with your tea. The joy of these days is, that they are rare.
4. Cup of tea– There is always something deeply satisfying about hugging a mug of tea in your hands. This is the type of tea with which you start your days and your weekends. One of life’s great pleasures is when, on a lazy Saturday morning, you reach over to the other side of the bed, only to find your boy (or girl) is not there. Because this means he is in the kitchen, making you a cup of tea.
This is the tea you serve to console a friend or to unwind after a long day. For a special treat, have a biscuit with your cup of tea or do the TimTam slam.
Which goes first, the milk or the tea?
In the olden days of yore, bone china teacups were delicate and made very thinly. Thus, milk was traditionally poured first so as to not “shock” the cup and cause cracks. Nowadays, bone china is much thicker and can withstand the 90 °C or so of recently boiled water. To answer this age-old debate, pour the tea first, followed by the milk. This way, you can adjust to how strong you take your tea.
I do hope you found this tea etiquette post useful and fun. Do leave a reply below, your comments and questions are most welcome.
Enjoy your tea,
EtiKate (Yorkshire, milky, no sugar)