Saturday, 13 April 2013

The cup that cheers

Let's put the kettle on and we'll have a nice cup of tea... a nice cup of tea... a nice cup of tea...

What a peculiarly English - or perhaps British - sentence that is: I doubt it would easily translate into any other language to mean quite what it means to an Englishman (or woman).  It's an adult version of, "There, there, never mind.  Mummy will kiss it better." "A nice cup of tea" might not cure everything, but it is guaranteed to make things look better, however black they are.

We English drink a lot of tea, far more than other nationalities, except perhaps the Chinese and Japanese.  Quite why that should be is, as far as I am concerned, something of a mystery.  Could it be something to do with our colonial past?  Maybe, but let's not bother our heads about that right now.

There was a time when tea shops were a more common sight on the high streets of English country towns than the growing number of coffee shops that are being foisted on us nowadays.  The menu was less extensive in those olde worlde tea shoppes as well.  Nothing like the lexicon of coffee varieties on offer at Starbucks or Costa Coffee: just tea, with maybe a toasted tea cake or a scone with strawberry jam and cream or a slice of Victoria sponge cake.  There was something much more refined about tea shops, with their dark wood tables and chairs with chintz-covered cushions.  You might even have been able to buy a cup of coffee in some of them - and you could possibly stipulate that it be made with "all milk".  That was what my mother liked.

If one was invited to take tea with somebody really posh one might be asked one's preference: China or Indian?  Most people, though, have no idea what the difference is.  Like me, they just drink tea - and probably think the only two kinds are normal tea and builder's tea.  Builder's tea is so strong that the spoon stands up in it.  That said, there is what seems to be a growing tendency for people to drink Earl Grey tea.  This is a blend flavoured with the rind or oil of the bergamot orange.  According to one legend, a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey's men first presented the blend to the Earl in 1803. The tale appears to be apocryphal, as Lord Grey never set foot in China and the use of bergamot oil to scent tea was then unknown in China (according to Wikipedia).

The Old Bat and I are probably not among the country's greatest tea drinkers.  I do take a cup up to her first thing in the morning, but it is not until mid-afternoon that I drink a second cup.  The Old Bat doesn't, though.  She will drink either coffee or - shudder - peppermint tea.  But we do enjoy a cup of Earl Grey after dinner in the evening. 

I was once persuaded to try drinking one of those herbal teas - lemon and ginger, it was.  Ghastly stuff.  I don't like iced tea, either.  Or green tea.  Just give me a cup of good old Rosie Lee (which is Cockney rhyming slang).

One of my childhood memories is seeing a picture of the Cutty Sark, the famous tea clipper now at Greenwich.  I don't know if this is the picture I remember, but if not it's very similar.


(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

I, too, like a cup of Earl Grey in the evening.
So does my youngest sister's husband... I think?

Brighton Pensioner said...

Great minds think alike..

...and fools seldom differ.

Buck said...

I only drink tea when I'm ill (I WAS gonna say "sick," until I realized I'm always that way). A big cup o' tea with honey and lemon (and a shot o' whiskey, if you're so inclined) certainly has psychic value, if not physical value.

I do keep a box or two of tea on hand for guests (Earl Grey and Twinings Breakfast Blend), though. Not everyone is a coffee junkie.