The tea lady
The tradition of the 'tea lady' was first introduced in 1666 by a Mrs Harris who was the wife of the Housekeeper and Beadle of the East India Company. Little did she think that when she made tea for Meetings held by Directors of the Company, she birthed a much-loved tradition whose abolishment in favour of automated vending machines would cause a national outcry.
In 1732, tea had become an essential part of an evening's entertainment in Britain with the emergence of the 'tea garden'. The tea garden or pleasure garden – Vauxhall and Ranelegh were the most popular - was a place where most of England's society, especially the emerging middle class, spent their leisure hours in activities like listening to a concerto, strolling and enjoying a good gossip over a cup of tea. At the same time, tea rooms and tea shops gained in popularity. Tea shops were the idea of an enterprising manageress of a bread company who, in 1864, persuaded her directors to allow her to open a shop which served tea and refreshments. These cosy cafes flourished because they were the only place a lady could patronise unchaperoned without 'damaging her reputation'.
The social critic Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Seven makes the first mention in 1680 of adding milk to tea.
Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is reputed to have introduced the idea of afternoon tea in the early 1800s. Often finding herself hungry in the hours between lunch and dinner, she conceived of the idea of having tea served at around 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon to ward off hunger pangs. Her afternoon tea coincided with the Earl of Sandwich's ingenious invention of putting a filling in between two slices of bread. Having tea and sandwiches in the afternoon soon caught on among English society.
By the Victorian era, afternoon tea had exploded into a full-blown fad. Tea parties ranged from an intimate number of 4 or 5 close friends to grander versions complete with arranged entertainment such as card-playing or poetry reading. Dancing became one of the staple activities on these afternoon occasions and the tea dance continued to occupy the rich and idle well into the early 20th century.
Even the working class was not spared from being gripped by tea fever. Workers, whose usual day began between 5am – 6am, enjoyed a mid-morning break were tea and food would be served. Some employers even repeated the operation late in the afternoon. For these working and farming communities, the main meal for the day was referred to as 'High Tea'. Far from our contemporary understanding of high tea at posh hotels serving all manner of desserts and sandwiches, the original high tea was a substitute for the evening meal and consisted of meats, bread, pickles, cakes and fruits.
Famous tea addicts include poet and literary critic Dr. Samuel Johnson who purportedly drank 40 cups of tea a day. British Prime Minister William Gladstone (1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886 and 1892–1894) was said to have filled up his hot water bottle for all night swigs!
Richard Blechnden couldn't sell his teas in the heat of a St. Louis Indian summer in 1904 so he desperately chucked in some ice. The first instance of iced tea was a hit among his customers.
Tea can invigorate more than your palate so before you dump the tea or teabags leftover from the dinner party, here are some suggestions on how to make the most of it:
- Perk up houseplants with leftovers tea.
- Pop cold teabags on your eyes to wake them up.
- Wash your hair with it. Some recommend it as a pick-up tonic for dull locks.
Teabags where accidentally discovered in 1908 by a New York merchant named Thomas Sullivan who sewed tea leaves in little individual silk bags to send as samples to prospective retailers. When these retailers received his samples, they poured hot water directly over the bag instead of slitting it to let the tea leaves out.
In 1667 Thomas Garraway, the owner of Garraway's Coffee House in London's Exchange Alley, became one of the first people to offer his customers tea. He published a broadsheet advertising his tea for sale at £6 and £10 per pound.
Mindboggling NumbersNext to water, tea is the most popular drink in the world, beating beverages such as carbonated drinks and coffee. Current world tea production is estimated to be 3,136,840 tonnes which roughly translates to 1.5 trillion cups of tea.
Britain, famous for its tea-drinking habits, holds the world record as the largest importer of tea. It also boasts the highest consumption of tea per capita in the world – each Britain drinks an average of nearly 4 cups of tea every day.
Tea has had a strong influence for centuries on the economies of tea-producing, tea-trading and tea-drinking countries. As the largest importer of tea, the tea trade has major impacts on Great Britain's economy. For Sri Lanka, tea is the country's largest foreign exchange earner. In India, the tea trade holds second place as an export earner and provides more jobs for the populace than any other industry.
To Each His Own
Tea is enjoyed in various forms by different cultures. A Malaysian Indian who is Muslim enjoys their tea robust and dark with a generous spoonful of sweet condensed milk while a Malaysian Chinese prefers theirs fragrant without milk or sugar.
The English prefer their cuppa with milk and sugar, which puritan Chinese tea-ists found blasphemous (though they once boiled their tea with rice).
In Tibet, tea is processed into bricks. For consumption, a Tibetan crushes a tea brick with a mortar and boils it with rice, ginger, zest of orange, spices, milk and sometimes, onions and yak butter.
Taiwan is particularly noted for its oolong teas which are more fermented than most other oolong teas. Its best is the Black Dragon family of teas, best known as evening teas.
Russians mix in lemons and a deadly shot of vodka.