Aug 26, 2011

Oh, hello, friend! Would you care for some tea?

There are few things I love in the world so much as a good cup of tea. Worries and fears seem to seep away as I listen to the pleasant bubbling in the kettle and spoon some golden honey into the bottom of a flowered teacup. As I pause to sip the delicious liquid, I am completely and wholly content... that is, as content as we sinful humans can be. :P

"Tea is a cup of life." ~Author Unknown

Dear Miss Grace, the keeper of this lovely garden, was kind enough to let me share my heart with all of her readers today. I had many things about which I would enjoy writing, but every time I pondered the matter, "tea" kept appearing and reappearing in my mind. Of course, I was happy to oblige, since tea happens to be one of my most favorite things. 

"A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards." ~A.A. Milne

tea |tē|
a hot drink made by infusing the dried, crushed leaves of the tea plantin boiling water.

Now, since I like to be extremely thorough, I have chosen to include a very brief history of tea, to give this post a little background. There is a legend that a Chinese emperor first discovered tea in 2737 B.C. when tea leaves blew into his cup of hot water--this tale is not fact and we cannot be sure if this is really how the delicate beverage originated. No matter how it came into existence, though, we do know that tea has been enjoyed by many in the East for thousands of years, while those of us in the West have only been drinking it less than five centuries. 

"There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1589, the Europeans were first exposed to tea when a Venetian author suggested it to be the reason behind the Asians' lengthy lives. After that, tea slowly began seeping its way into the Western culture, starting with the Dutch, who brought back green tea from the East in 1610. In 1662, it is stated that tea-drinking became so chic (due to the fact that the queen was a tea-drinker) that it replaced ale as the most popular beverage. Although it was rumored that black tea was enjoyed in the colonies, it wasn't until the year 1690 that tea was first publicly sold in a shop in Massachusetts. And of course, who can forget the famous "Boston Tea Party" in 1773 when American men--dressed as Indians--raided the British ships and dumped chests of tea into the harbour, all in protest against the British tax on tea. In 1840, it is told that the Duchess of Bedford introduced the British custom of afternoon tea, which has remained a tradition ever since. 

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

There is a common misunderstanding among Americans that "high tea" means a fancy afternoon tea. This is untrue. Afternoon tea (also called "low tea") takes place late in the afternoon. High tea, however, is taken around supper time and a much heavier meal accompanies it. The rules of British etiquette when it comes to tea-drinking are very specific. Here is something I found on a website about what is and what isn't considered proper:

"In order for one not to spill the hot liquid onto oneself, the proper way to hold the vessel of a cup with no handle is to place one’s thumb at the six o'clock position and one’s index and middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising one’s pinkie up for balance.

"Tea cups with a handle are held by placing one’s fingers to the front and back of the handle with one’s pinkie up again allows balance. Pinkie up does mean straight up in the air, but slightly tilted. It is not an affectation, but a graceful way to avoid spills. Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand.

Do not stir your tea, with your tea spoon, in sweeping circular motions. Place your tea spoon at the six o'clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o'clock position two or three times. Never leave your tea spoon in your tea cup. When not in use, place your tea spoon on the right side of the tea saucer. Never wave or hold your tea cup in the air. When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea saucer. If you are at a buffet tea hold the tea saucer in your lap with your left hand and hold the tea cup in your right hand. When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea saucer and hold in your lap.  The only time a saucer is raised together with the teacup is when one is at a standing reception.

Milk is served with tea, not cream. Cream is too heavy and masks the taste of the tea. Although some pour their milk in the cup first, it is probably better to pour the milk in the tea after it is in the cup in order to get the correct amount.

When serving lemon with tea, lemon slices are preferable, not wedges. Either provide a small fork or lemon fork for your guests, or have the tea server can neatly place a slice in the tea  cup after the tea has been poured. Be sure never to add lemon with milk since the lemon's citric acid will cause the proteins in the milk to curdle.

And now we come to the all-important question: loose-leaf tea or tea in a bag. My mother and father much prefer the loose leaf tea, and I will admit that it tastes more authentic. We can only purchase it a few times a year, because it is very expensive (we buy from Teavana). As for myself, I am quite content with a cup of Irish Breakfast (my favorite!) or Lady Grey tea. I also enjoy African Roibos, which a friend of ours introduced to us, and Vanilla Chai. While the tea in a bag is very simple to prepare (boil hot water, add the tea bag for your prefered amount of time, and add sugar and milk to taste), loose leaf tea is not quite so easy.  We purchase it in cans, on which there are instructions for how to brew the specific type of tea. There is a special metal tea bag in which the tea leaves are placed, and this is put in the teapot to brew for the requited amount of time. When finished, you pour your tea into a teacup, add milk/sugar/honey, and enjoy!

"We had a kettle; we let it leak: Our not repairing made it worse. We haven't had any tea for a week... The bottom is out of the Universe." ~Rudyard Kipling

I would be very blind if I were to end this post without making mention of something vastly important--tea parties. For if there is one thing that can improve teatime, 'tis a lovely friend with whom to share it. We have a very charming book called Let's Have a Tea Party! by Emilie Barnes (yes, I did have to include a book in this post :P), and it lists many creative and fun suggestions for how to plan your very own tea party. From a garden tea party to a Little Women-themed gathering, this book includes everything: even down to invitations, a suggested menu, and decorations. I loved pouring over it for hours when I was younger--is it any surprise to you that the Little Women and elegant British tea party ideas were my favorites? 

There are many other things I could include, such as what baked goods taste oh-so-delectable when paired with tea, but I'm afraid this post would turn into a full-length novel if I were to do so. Thank you so much, dearest Grace, for allowing me to tend to your garden for the afternoon. 'Twas a delight.

Happy tea-making, ladies!

"You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me." ~C.S. Lewis 
Elizabeth Rose (also called Elizabeth, Lizzy Rose, or just plain Lizzy) is a young lady trying to do her best to live her life to His glory in a sinful world. She is far too old-fashioned for her own good. She loves long skirts, lace, window seats, and chatting with dear sisters in Christ over a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Elizabeth is happily living at home, taught and instructed by her dear parents, along with her many little siblings. She blogs at Living on Literary Lane, where she reviews works of literature, posts poems, and shares her thoughts on every important matter under the sun, and at Unsinkable, an event blog she hosts with her sister dedicated to the centenntial of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Teatime is her favorite time of day, and she wishes she could somehow share it with you over the Internet. 


  1. Now THIS was a post I enjoyed! :D

  2. Leaf tea is definitely better than tea bags! Especially if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on some Fortnum & Mason tea - they provide the Queen's tea!

    For a really good cup of tea, always preheat the pot, use freshly boiled water, and make sure it is still boiling when you pour it over the leaves (you are using loose-leaf tea, aren't you?) :)

    I've heard that in general, the upper classes would pour the tea into the teacup before the milk, and the lower classes would do it the other way. This was because the poorer quality china of the lower classes tended to crack from the heat of the tea, so they would add milk first to cool the tea slightly. I'm not sure how much truth there is to that, but it's certainly interesting! I've also heard that the term "milk in first" became a derogatory term to refer to someone of a lower class, but once again, take with a grain of... sugar? :) To this day, there is a fierce debate about whether one should put the milk in first, or the tea. Apparently there are even those who say it tastes better one way or the other...

    The whole history and culture of tea is so fascinating, isn't it? :)

    Katie in Scotland

  3. That was a lovely post, I really enjoyed it. My little sister and I have been drinking chamomile tea in the morning (whilst the sun isn't too harsh and hot). It's a great way to begin the day- plus, it such an elgant simple treat!

  4. Oh, how very lovely! I'm a tea lovin' girl as well...I'm especially fond of peppermint.

    Fantastic job with this post, Miss Elizabeth Rose!

    <3 Moriah

  5. Loved this post!