When I think of ‘tea’ I think of Palm Court at The Ritz…
Palm Court, The Ritz, London
During World War II the Ritz was struck by bombs twice, one destroyed two suites and another landed on the terrace facing Green park and did severe damage to the refrigeration plant. However, Tea has continued to be served at this opulent hotel through the great Depression and the years of austerity after 1945, and continuing with this ritual today. When I think ‘tea’ I think of Palm Court at The Ritz. I had the most exquisite experience in 2008, enjoying Afternoon Tea with my best girlfriend.
Taking tea is one of the quintessentially English occasions, and who is a greater authority on the subject than the sumptuous London Ritz Hotel? This charming Edwardian-style book captures the essence of this traditional British pastime, and provides us with all the expertise on the ceremony as well as the recipes. Stories about the legendary afternoon teas at the Ritz and fascinating details about the history of tea drinking are complemented with passages from such diverse writers as Charles Dickens to Oscar Wilde. Over fifty recipes are included for different kinds of afternoon tea specialities, from delicate sandwiches, strawberry shortcake and rose petal jam, to crumpets and muffins for hearty teas in front of a roaring fire. The author gives an infallible guide to the many blends of tea and their suitability to particular occasions. Beautifully presented and delightfully illustrated, this book is the perfect gift for tea drinkers everywhere. Waterstones
As the end of the war in 1945 did not bring the immediate end to rationing, tea remained rationed until October 1952. The tea bag, an American invention, began to make an impact on British tea-drinking habits. It was to revolutionise the tea industry, and today 96% of all tea sold in Britain is in tea bag form.It was Tetley in 1953 that drove the introduction of tea bags in Britain, but other companies soon caught up.
Rationing by no means diminished the British enthusiasm for tea however! In January 1946, the author and journalist George Orwell published an essay called ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ in the Evening Standard newspaper, calling tea ‘one of the main stays of civilsation in this country’. He offered sensible advice to make the 2oz ration go as far as possible, such as using water that is still at the point of boiling, in order to make the strongest brew from the least tea. In his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the main character, Gordon Comstock, makes tea secretly in his rented room as a means to undermine the oppressive authority of his landlady, who does not allow it.
How did we come to start drinking tea, and have it become so quintessentially English?
Well, the arrival of tea in Britain in the 17th century altered the drinking habits of this nation forever. In the 19th century widespread cultivation of tea in India began, leading to the imports of Indian tea into Britain overtaking the imports of Chinese tea. In the 20th century there was a further development that would radically change our tea-drinking habits – the invention of the tea bag, introduced in the austere years following World War II. In around 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a New York tea merchant, started to send samples of tea to his customers in small silken bags.
The purpose of the tea bag is two fold:
1. the belief that for tea to taste its best, the leaves ought to removed from the hot water at the end of a specific brewing period
2. the added benefit of convenience – a removable device means that tea can be made as easily in a mug as in a pot, without the need for a tea strainer, and that tea pots can be kept clean more easily
But the earliest examples of removable infusing devices for holding tea were not bags. Popular infusers included tea eggs and tea balls – perforated metal containers which were filled with loose leaves and immersed in boiling water, and then removed using an attached chain.
The tea bag isn’t for everyone. I prefer to make a good pot of tea using loose leaf strong tea, and pouring over milk into a Bone China cup and saucer. I’m a bit of a tea snob on the sly, although I claim to be an ‘as it comes’ person amongst strangers! Don’t dowse the tea with milk, and most definitely a huge no! to sugar. Taste the tea I dare you. It is the most refreshing and civilised thing….ever.
Somebody put the kettle on please and…
Keep your pecker up! xx
The UK Tea Council is an independent non-profit making body dedicated to promoting tea & its unique story for the benefit of those who produce, sell & enjoy tea.