For British Children’s author Frances Hardinge, it’s the ‘magic key to the vault where [her] brain is kept’. Bear Grylls has a cup of it ‘halfway up a rock face’. And George Orwell said that ‘the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes’.
I’m talking, of course, about tea. It’s been a national obsession in Britain since it arrived here from China in the 1600s. Its rich history covers everything from travel and trade to class and etiquette. Our culture is split into two camps: those that pour the tea first and those who begin with milk.
Royal butler, Grant Harrold, recently shared the tea-drinking etiquette followed by the Queen. To drink tea like a royal, you’ll need to start by pouring it into a china cup from a teapot. To stir in the milk, use a back and forth motion rather than a circular one. Keep the spoon away from the sides.
When it comes to tea drinking, Debrett’s etiquette guide is very clear: sip, don’t slurp. Dunking biscuits is to be saved for informal settings (although it’s recommended. You can’t beat a chocolate digestive dunked in a piping hot mug of strong black tea). And – I’m sorry to say – the pointed pinky is a myth. From Debrett’s: “Hold the handle of the teacup between your thumb and forefinger; don’t hold your little finger in the air.”
SHOP OUR FAVORITE TEA AND TEA ACCESSORIES
But for us Brits, all of this pales in comparison to this one simple truth: there’s nothing better for our wellbeing than a good cup of tea. Former British Prime Minister, the late William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) put it this way:
“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
I love this quote because it sums up exactly how I feel about the simple act of drinking tea. It’s good for every situation. The simple ritual of preparing tea is soothing. I bond with friends and family over a teapot shared around the table on a weekend afternoon. That first cup of tea my husband brings me each morning is like the elixir of life.
But this quote from Gladstone is more personal than that for me. When he died in 1898, Gladstone bequeathed the equivalent of £4.24 million to build the beautiful St Deniol’s library in Hawarden, a small village in North Wales. This is the village where my parents were married. Where my late grandfather was the vicar at St Deiniol’s Parish Church. And where, a couple of times a year, I catch up with my 90-year-old grandmother at that library Gladstone had built.
This is sacred time; when we crack jokes and share stories, I repeat myself a hundred times so she can catch what I’m saying, and time slows down a little over a good cup of tea.
What could be better than that?
Leave a comment below: do you enjoy tea time? What questions do you have for Rachel about UK culture? We’d love to know!
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