Author Archives: Caroline Hope

About Caroline Hope

Caroline has been teaching classes all aspects of English Tea Time for over ten years. She is passionate about the full experience including the traditions, the actual hosting of the true authentic English Tea Party, not to mention the tea and the baking. She has been to Japan 11 times to teach, talk and demonstrate; and has been described as the "Godmother of Tea" in a Swiss Magazine.

Commemorating London’s Tea History

london-tea-history-men-in-front-of-plaque

Board members of The London Tea History Association, 22nd November 2016, at Commodity Quay, St. Katherine Dock, London.

Last November, I was invited by The London Tea History Association to the unveiling of their first  commemorative plaque on Commodity Quay, St. Katherine Docks.  to mark an important location in the history of the London tea trade.  The London Tea History Association was formed in 2014 with the purpose of marking important locations of the London tea trade  before they should disappear in the rapidly changing City landscape. The St. Katherine Dock warehouses  were completed in 1826, providing storage for many of the luxury commodities flooding into London such as tea, sugar, spices etc.

Imported by the East India Company, the China teas were offloaded further downstream at the East India Docks and then transported in wagons along the newly built Commercial Road to bonded near East India House, on the site of the present Lloyd’s building.  The tea was then sold in twice yearly auctions. Once purchased by London wholesalers and dealers, tea and other precious commodities would have been stored in warehouses such as those at Commodity Quay ready for distribution up and down the river and the rest of the UK.

The East offering its riches to Britannia, Roma Spiradone, 1778. This allegorical painting, now perceived as a typical eulogy of that era to British imperial domination, was commissioned by the East India Company for the Revenue Committee Room in the East India House in Leadenhall Street. Note the Chinese case of tea and porcelain jar in the right forefront of the painting.

During the 18th and early 19th Centuries,  the popularity of tea drinking owes much to its role  in the social arena of the domestic home. An excellent example of this can be found in Cranford, Elizabeth Gaitskell, 1853. Set around 1830, tea parties play a key role in the social interactions of the respectable ladies in this small country town and exemplify the codes of genteel behaviour employed in polite society. The description of Miss Betty Barker’s tea party in Chapter 7 is a joy.

By this time the drinking of tea had become a habit of the British.  I would suggest however it is not this tea that is regarded as “British or English tea” in the present day. We have the continued desire to make money and role of Empire to thank for that.

After the East India company lost its monopoly of the ‘East India trade’ in 1833, direct Chinese trade was open to all. Demand for tea in Great Britain continued to grow, proportionate to an increasing population, with an annual consumption per capita of 1lb/450gms around 1850. Trading relations with the Chinese, never easy, became increasingly difficult. Tea  plants (categorised as Camellia Sinensis, Sinensis meaning Chinese)  were brought out of China with reluctant teams of Chinese tea growers to grow in the areas of Assam and Darjeeling in northern India,  and under East India Company rule.  Those transplanted to the Darjeeling region were cultivated successfully, the topography being similar to the tea growing provinces in China. Darjeeling teas have their own distinctive muscatel character, and have become known as the Champagne of teas. Today you can expect to pay around £50 per ib/450g for a highly prized early-season picked darjeeling that is worthy of this title.

In Assam the cultivation of the imported tea plants was less successful. However a similar indigenous plant (Camellia Sinensis Var. Assamica)  was discovered growing wild and also put under cultivation. Indian teas started to appear in very small quantities on the London tea market in the 1830s, as much a novelty as anything else. In December 1838,  Queen Victoria recorded in her diary “ ….Talked of this Assam Tea which I had tasted and thought good; …..”.

Chart demonstrating the breakdown of teas imported from China, India and Ceylon from the mid 17th Century to the end of the 19th Century. Information taken from East India Company import ledger (Tsiology: A Discourse On Tea. Being An Account of that Exotic: etc, BY A TEA DEALER, 1824, The Making of theModern British Diet, Derek J Oddy and Derek S Miller, 1976

Chart demonstrating the breakdown of teas imported from China, India and Ceylon from the mid 17th Century to the end of the 19th Century. Information taken from Tsiology: A Discourse On Tea. Being An Account of that Exotic: etc, BY A TEA DEALER, 1824,  and The Making of the Modern British Diet, Derek J Oddy and Derek S Miller, 1976.

From 1865 to 1890 imports of Empire or “British” grown teas exploded onto the London tea market. By the end of the 19th century, annual consumption per capita increased to approx 6ib/ 3kg in the UK (4 cups per day). This demand was fulfilled by the teas put under cultivation in Assam, and other parts of mainland India and Ceylon. Despite the exhortations by William Corbett in his 1822 treatise Cottage Economy, decrying the evils of tea and applauding the benefits of home brewed ale, tea supplanted beer as the staple beverage of every British home, whether the grandest palace or the meanest hovel. In addition, the resiliant Assamica tea plants were robust enough to be planted for mass production in other countries under British rule such as present-day Kenya and Malawi. Each country lends its own regional character to the tea plant, however the general character is that of the Assam plant with its tannic aftertaste. These teas poured into London to be auctioned, purchased by the British companies and frequently repackaged for export.  A British tea was born.

Lipton's Tea; advertisement 1894

Lipton’s Tea; advertisement 1894

The 20th Century saw major upheavals throughout the world. Between the two wars, from 1926 to 1933, The Empire Marketing Board pursued a large scale aggressive advertisement campaign to increase consumer purchasing of Empire produced goods.  The messaging on the posters was tailored to men and women separately in order to support the old styled imagery connected to the Empire, often with men depicted as ‘Empire Builders’ and showing women buying empire products, especially food. The advertisements attempted to stir patriotic feelings amongst citizens of the Empire.

Empire Board Advertisement, borrowed from an excellent article about Empire Board Advertisements. Click on the picture to take you through to the blog.

Empire Board Advertisement, borrowed from an excellent article about Empire Board Advertisements. Click on the picture to take you through to the blog.

British colonial life is no more.  Ownership of the ‘British’ tea trade has been taken back by the countries in which tea is produced. Whilst there was a boom in demand for tea after the second world war, by the latter part of the 20th Century the tea broking industry no longer congregated on London as the main purchasing and trading point. Newer and more modern trading techniques have taken over. Glass and steel temples to mammon have been erected as the buildings that had stored and traded tea,  plus other ‘Colonial’ commodities, have been demolished or remodelled, frequently becoming luxury apartments overlooking the River Thames.

The London Tea History Association has identified at least three other suitable locations for further plaques: The Tea Building in Shoreditch that once housed the Liptons Tea Factory in the early 20th century, the newly built Plantation Place, located on the site of Plantation House where tea auctions took place from 1952 to 1971, and at Sir John Lyon House (on Upper Thames Street), heart of the London tea trade from 1971 to 2000.

If you would like to support the work of the London Tea History Association, you can do so here. I am sure  you will agree London’s tea history is worth preserving. Please do let me know of any places you think are worthy of consideration for a plaque.

Which is your Ultimate Scone Recipe?

my-scones-resized

This blog post is dedicated to Olga Boikess, a food journalist from the USA whom I met in May 2016.  Olga came to my home and wanted  “make scones the way they were made by Vanessa Bell at Charleston”.  Her request has opened up my eyes as to  how recipes evolve.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-17-20-12My first step was to read the Bloomsbury Group Cookbook: recipes for Life, Love and Art by Jans Ondaatje Rolls.  Under the heading of Savoury Scones, is a recollection of the kitchen at Charleston  by John and Diana Higgens , the children of Grace Higgens (née Germany), housekeeper at Charleston for over 50 years:

“ Tea was at five o’clock, and at about half past four, the kettle was set to boil on the Aga …. Sometimes, Vanessa would make scones to go with Grace’s seed cake. Standing in at the table in the poor lit kitchen with its concrete floor, she would hook her rings onto a convenient nail by the sink and slowly, carefully, sieve flour into a bowl, rubbing in the minimum of butter. Her scones were plain, unglazed and surprisingly good, like the perfect cottage loaves that her sister Virginia (Woolf), impractical as she too was, taught her young cook Louie Mayer to make.”

Paradoxically, the two scone recipes listed in this cookbook did not followed the recognised technique for scone making employed by Vanessa Bell in the above description!!   See below.

Savoury Drop Scones

dropscones

Vanessa Bell’s daughter’s recipe
for savoury drop scones
¼ lb plain flour *1 teaspoon baking powder * salt * pepper * 1½ oz margarine or butter * Just under ½ gill water * 4oz grated Parmezan (sic) * (Lard, for frying)

Melt marg & water in a saucepan. Sieve flour and baking powder together. Add (pinch of) salt & pepper. Stir in marge & water & cheese. Fry spoonfuls in hot lard. Serve hot. (Makes 16 – 18)

Drop Scones are also known as Scotch Pancakes here in the UK.  They are delicious served hot, fresh from the pan and drowning in butter. The drop scone is like a thick mini pancake.

 Soda Scones

Helen Anrep’s Soda Scones
” To four pounds of flour add two large teaspoonfuls of salt, half an ounce of soda,
and a quart of milk, in to which half an ounce of cream of tartar has been well stirred.
Mix the whole well but lightly. Cut into round cakes and bake in a quick oven, or on an
iron frying pan over a clear fire. About 15 minutes are sufficient. The scones should
rise well; they need to be turned once. Wheaten meal cakes can be made in the same
way and make an excellent breakfast bread, both delicious and nutritious.”

I found a more up-to-date Soda Scone Recipe at Oaken.co.uk, who hand-make cast iron griddle plates (another item for my wish list) under the heading of  ‘Buttermilk Scones’. I did not achieve the lovely hot/warm stable heat that I would have got with a cast iron plate – thus they got a little burnt!  The pictures below are of my soda scones cooked in the frying pan.

Soda scones

I baked half the dough in the pan and the remainder in the oven. Despite slightly burning the pan scones, I preferred their texture over those baked in the oven. I think we often forget that our equipment will have a part to play and I wonder if  this is how butter began to be added to the oven scones to provide a richness that I found lacking in my oven-baked soda scones, despite being fluffy and light?

My ‘traditional’ Scones

my-sconesThe scone recipe that I follow does follow Vanessa’s technique of rubbing the butter into the well-sieved flour (the rubbing in can be done in less than 30 seconds using a food processor). Then deftly fold in milk/ buttermilk/yoghurt/appropriate liquid into the crumb mixture in a few mindful movements and work your dough as little as possible.  The key for me is to follow a technique that embraces the chemical reactions that occur during the process.

My new discovery! Griddle Bread (or is it a large soda scone?)

Griddle Bread

Similar to the Oakden Soda Scone recipe, this ‘bread’ has baking powder (in the self-raising flour) rather than Bicarbonate of Soda. Possibly this is closer to the Margaret Anrep recipe that calls for the addition of Cream of Tartar ( found in home-made baking powder) to the milk which almost ‘turns’ it into buttermilk (a future blog will cover the nuances between different raising agents used in baking!).  It takes 20 minutes from my first thought to taking the first mouthful of warm bread – pretty much as for a scone recipe. I have adapted the recipe to use wholemeal flour and you may wish to experiment with adding some herbs or spices.

Ingredients:
225g good quality Wholemeal Self Raising Flour (or 220g flour/2teasps baking powder)
1 teaspoon ground Sea Salt
250ml – 300ml buttermilk (or full fat milk with about a tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice added)
Method:
Heat your (medium sized) frying pan or iron griddle plate on the hob until the base is evenly hot.  Then turn the heat down to about half way. Sieve your flour and salt into a large bowl, add the buttermilk and, in quick strokes with a large metal spoon or palette knife, cut and fold the mixture to form a wet dough ball.   Sprinkle some flour into the hot pan.  Scoop your wet dough into the pan. If necessary shape slightly with wet hands.  Cook for about 8 minutes on each side to make sure it cooks through in the middle, remove from the pan and cool on a rack.  ENJOY with some good quality salted butter or even thick cream and home made jam.

This Griddle Bread could easily be cut into small rounds before baking rather than a large round – perhaps then they would be called scones! My next test is to bake the dough in the oven to see how it varies and whether it is as good as that baked in the pan.

Please let me know how you get on and your thoughts about transferring from hob to oven and back again. Also – do you have a favourite take on the perfect scone for you? I’d love to hear from you. And, if you have a spare cast iron pan or plate, please let me know!

 

The Bodum Assam Tea Press

Bodum Tea Press

A few years ago, when I was a mature student studying for my B A Illustration Degree, I wrote the following essay in 2011. Our brief was to describe a designed object in a museum collection. I chose the Bodum Assam Tea Press and I feel many of the observations still stand. I would really appreciate any comments and comparisons you may have about tea brewing implements of the past and present day.

fig-2The Bodum Assam Tea Press (fig.1) is located in the ‘Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999’ cabinet (fig. 2), Gallery 5 at the Science Museum. I find it is interesting that a teapot, which has a history going back well over a thousand years, is displayed as an innovative product of the final years of the 20th century in a museum of Science.

Is it regarded as an innovative product because of how it looks? Also, although displayed in a cabinet featuring products made in the past 25 years, does it maintain a respect for the rituals and traditions of our British tea drinking culture? And, is it an effective functional object that is relevant to life today?

fig-3The physical structure of the Tea Press
The outer body of the Bodum Assam Tea Press retains the familiar fat-belly shape of a traditional tea pot (fig 3) that has long since been regarded as essential for allowing space for the leaves to brew.

It is madfig-4e of borosilicate glass, a thermal shock resistant glass consisting of silica, alumina, calcium sodium oxide and boric oxide, which was invented primarily for industrial use. In addition to the glass pot there is a removable central plastic column punctured with holes except for the bottom three centimetres, and a vacuum plunger (fig 4). When this is depressed, the contents of the sealed-off base section of central column become isolated from the liquid in the pot. It was designed Carsten Jorgensen for Bodum, the Swiss glass manufacturing company.

fig-5Because it is made of glass, the Bodum Assam Tea Press “has its own inherent ‘decoration’ – the beautiful colour of the tea seen through the glass”(a). The audience can participate in the thrill of watching the dry leaves unfurl and the colour of the liquor intensifying as it brews (fig 5).

How its design was influenced by earlier makers
It is worth noting the similarity and influence of the teapot (fig. 6), designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld in fig-61932 for Jenaer Glaswork Schott and Gen, a revival of which was also marketed by Bodum in the early 1990s. Likewise it can be seen that Jorgensen’s Teaball teapot (fig. 7), described as being of ‘beautiful simplicity and excellent materials for everyday life’(b), is highly evocative of Marianne Brandt’s silver tea infuser (fig 8). fig-7Both endorse the influence of Modernism on Jorgensen’s work.  In addition, the clean, almost perfect spherical tea pot shape with the pared back spout reflect ‘the smooth surfaces and pfig-8recise geometric shapes associated with the International Style that continued to surface in new examples of aesthetic purity in design’(c) of the late twentieth century.

The beauty and ceremony of the Bodum Tea Press
Being made of glass, The Bodum Assam Tea Press fulfils our fascination with the visual aspects of tea brewing whilst the ‘engineered’ look of the central perforated brewing chamber intimates a forthcoming sense of theatre and the ceremony of brewing tea.

Picture 643

This sense of ceremony was highly important when tea was first arrived in Europe and England in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was a highly expensive and sought-after luxury enjoyed only by the fashionable rich elite strata of society. You can still see contemporary portraits (fig 9, right) of families drinking tea.

These paintings were an important indicator of status and high fashion. The expensive tea paraphernalia: tea pot, sugar bowl, kettle, slop bowl, and delicate tiny tea cups, often made of silver, delicate porcelain and later bone china, were equally important for the sense of occasion, the tea often only being drunk perhaps once or twice a week.

fig-10-11-in-one-image-for-blog-postSocial status or intellectual prowess?
Today the emphasis of the ceremony has shifted from the social status of the hostess pouring the tea, to the intellectual status of the teapot owner. His ownership signifies his superior knowledge of high quality (and no doubt expensive) tea leaves. The contents of the pot are on display, indicating a high quality leaf and quite unlike the opaque bag containing an unknown, invisible tea dust (figs 10 & 11) that is consumed by more than 90% of the UK’s black tea drinking population.

We then come to the functionality…
The Bodum Assam Tea Press’s most prominent feature is the central filter system. In a comparison about tea pots, Robin Harrison, the then chairman of the Tea Brokers’ Association and director of Thompson, Lloyd & Ewart tea brokers, said: “The ability to isolate the tea leaves from the liquor easily was a serious advantage over the others (teapots). It prevented the tea stewing”(d).

Another benefit of this teapot is its lightness and its strength, both features being due to being made of glass. With its 1.5 litre capacity it is possible to make a large quantity of tea that can sit until required without stewing. The full pot can also be lifted with ease using one hand by the person pouring the tea. With the transition of the twentieth century we no longer embrace the ‘Victorian values of display’ and when ‘the availability of cheap servants enabled formal rituals of eating and organised leisure to develop in the home’(e). The pot is designed to hold a high volume of tea thus eliminating the need to go back and forth to the kettle to make a new brew.

The one area of functionality that Jorgensen did not improve in terms of efficiency was the cleaning after use. We no longer have the cheap servants and ‘someone’ has to empty the leaves out of the narrow chamber, a fiddly exercise that uses copious amounts of water to rinse them out and clog up the sink drain because , after use the leaves are no longer controlled, the brewing function being over. I find this too onerous for everyday use. Perhaps here we have a case of style over function.

In conclusion, Jorgensen has created a product that has strong visual intrigue and also respects the importance of brewing techniques. I feel it has been designed by a man for men and certainly to this end you can find it in John Lewis and Selfridges department stores costing between thirty to fifty pounds (depending on the materials used for the internal filter column). It is one of those household products that are ‘not only functional but pieces of sculpture – true objects of desire’(f). It will probably sit alongside a Philippe Stark orange squeezer and Nespresso coffee maker.

Sadly I fear the desire of a cup of delicious tea is limited. Society is now driven by the need for instant gratification, which a tea bag provides; instant colour in the cup and the flavour is almost irrelevant. The art of making good tea is being forgotten and is no reflection on the Bodum Assam Tea Press. It is down to our inability to wait for a mere four minutes to create the perfect brew.

Do you have any questions about the Bodum Assam Tea Press or anything else around the use of tea pots today? Perhaps you have other questions that relate to English tea drinking culture, both past and present? Please let me know. Every question sets me off on another quest!

_____________

Bibliography:

Picture descriptions:
Fig. 1. Bodum Assam Tea Press, courtesy of the Science Museum Picture Library, London.

Fig. 2. Bodum Assam Tea Press in the cabinet entitled Making the modern World 1990 – 1999, Gallery 5, Science Museum, London.
Fig. 3. Brown Betty teapot.
Fig. 4. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Picture courtesy of the Science Museum.
Fig. 5. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Filled with tea to illustrate the colour change as it brews.
Fig. 6. Image of tea pot manufactured by Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen, 1932. Designer: Wilhelm Wagenfeld. Materials: Borosilicate Glass.
Fig. 7. Assam Teaball tea pot by Bodum 1998. Stainless steel, Bronze and Plastic. 1.5 litre capacity tea pot for use with loose tea leaves, made in Germany, designed by Carsten Jorgensen. Image from Power House Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
Fig. 8. Silver and Ebony tea infuser. Designer Marianne Brandt, 1924. British Museum London. Twentieth Century Gallery.
Fig. 9. The Tea Party, early 18th century. This painting attributed to Richard Collins, hangs in the Goldsmiths’ Hall, London.
Fig 10. Dry tea leaves: Loose leaf early season darjeeling leaves on the left. Contents of darjeeling teabag on right.
Fig. 11. Wet tea leaves after brewing: Loose leaf early season darjeeling on the left, the leaf is clear to see having now unfurled. On the right we have the brewed teabag leaves, difficult to identify as being tea leaves.

Primary Sources:
– Science Museum, London. Ground Floor, Gallery 5, cabinet entitled “Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999”

– John Lewis Department Store.
– British Museum.

Secondary Sources and footnotes:
(a) Heath, Adrian, Heath, Ditte, Lund Jensen, Aage, 300 Years of Industrial Design, Function, Form, Technique 1700 – 2000, Herbert Press, London 2000. p261.
(b) Production notes, Teaball teapot, Powerhouse Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
(c) Raizman, David, History of Modern Design, Laurence King, London 2003. Design in Context: An Act of Balance p364.
(d) Metzstein,Ruth, One for the Pot, How do new types of teapot compare with the round-bellied pot our grandmothers used? Our panel finds out. Independent on Sunday, 3rd September 1995.
(e) & (f) McDermott, Catherine, Twentieth Century Design, Design Museum, Carlton, London 1997.

Miss Pusseycat’s Tea Party

Aunty Mavor's The Cat's Tea Party

Aunt Mavor’s Picture Books for little readers:  The Cat’s Tea-Party

Much of the past year has been spent in the British Library for my research  to answer a frequently asked question; “When did the ‘traditional, quintessentially British meal, Afternoon Tea’ commence”? I have used my words carefully here as these adjectives seem to be used everywhere to describe this meal.

What my journey has uncovered:

This quest has been far more circuitous than I anticipated and along the way I have found some fabulous curiosities, one of which is the series of Aunt Mavor educational books for children. These were published in the middle of the 19th century for children to practise their reading skills. I found, The Cat’s Tea Party a rather quaint delight.

Aunt Mavor's The Cat's Tea Party , pg 1 & 2

Aunt Mavor’s The Cat’s Tea Party , pages 1 & 2

Elderly Miss Tabitha Pusseycat invites her friends to a tea party. Her footman, Jackoo the monkey delivers the invitation cards (page 1 above).  The guests are described in detail, gently reminding us of the English preoccupation with social standing (see page 2 above and 3 and 4 below).

Aunt Mavor's The Cat's Tea Party , pg 3 & 4

Aunt Mavor’s The Cat’s Tea Party , page 3 & 4

What food was served?  Miss Pusseycat had bought “six pennyworth of muffins, two twopenny tea-cakes, and three pennyworth of shrimps, by way of a savoury”. There is also mention of toast (made by Jackoo) and bread and butter (handed round by Captain Black) – see page 5 below.

Aunt Mavor's The Cat's Tea Party , pg 5 & 6

Aunt Mavor’s The Cat’s Tea Party , pg 5 & 6

In terms of drink, Miss Tabitha carries out her important duty as hostess of making and pouring the tea.  Jackoo can be seen handing around some wine cup or similar alcoholic drink whilst Miss Velvet Purr is singing.

The main focus of the story is the description of the party and the protagonists therein. They all have an opportunity to dress up and demonstrate their social skills, their genteelness and their polite behaviour.  Yet it is casual enough for Captain Black to say he would “just drop in too, and take a cup (of tea) with them”. The form of the party is described; eating first and then some singing, tricks and parlour games. As night falls they have all become very merry and the guests go off into the night having had a good time together (see pages 7 and 8 below).

Aunt Mavor's The Cat's Tea Party , pg 7 & 8

Aunt Mavor’s The Cat’s Tea Party , page 7 & 8

What tea might Miss Tabitha be serving?

Newby Teas Safari Caddy - Lapsang Souchong

Newby’s Lapsang Souchong

This book was published in the early 1860s at which time China teas still dominated sales in London (95.6% of tea sold in London in 1866 was from China). Miss Tabitha might have been very adventurous with her tea and could easily have offered “China or Indian?”.  

This habit of serving two teas still continued very much into my lifetime. The China tea would be served in a porcelain or china tea pot and the Indian tea could be served in a silver pot.

To get an idea of the contrast,  I would recommend Newby’s Safari Lapsang Souchong  and Newby’s Select Estate Assam.

Newby's Loose Leaf Carton - Assam

Newby’s Loose Leaf Assam

These two teas provide an example of the distinctive regional contrasts: the characteristically lighter China tea (Camellia sinensis var: sinensis and the more full bodied Assam (Camelia sinsensis var: Assamica).

The Newby Assam is a revelation. It has a very strong rounded flavour in the mouth but, because the leaves are what I call early season leaves, they lack the tannic bitterness that has become so familiar with the bulk produced teas.

I think Miss Tabitha would have been very happy to offer these teas to her guests.

The term ‘Afternoon Tea’ is not mentioned in the story

The question arising in my mind is we might do well to clarify what we understand by the term ‘Afternoon Tea’ and how does this differ from a ‘Tea Party’?

Until the end of the 19th century,  Breakfast and Dinner were the two important meals of the day. These were about sustenance with the focus being on the food.  Any other form of private social gathering, however large or small, seemed to be called a Tea Party.

The focus of the tea party was to provide an arena of sociability to which guests were invited to drink tea. Alongside this social tea-drinking ceremony, food was served that complemented the drink and was in keeping with the delicate tea paraphernalia.

Even until the early 20th century it was regarded as injurious to health not to have something to eat alongside the tea. If you look closely at contemporary paintings of people grouped around the tea table from the early 1700s, a plate of bread and butter or hot buttered and toasted muffins will usually be displayed. The tea table was initially the public stage of the private home and where both domestic and business interaction would take place. It is the sociability of the tea drinking that has continued to be carried forward and embraced for any ‘light’ entertaining.

The tea party might be a small group invited to drink tea after dinner (served in the early afternoon)  in the 18th century to a large reception or tea dance in the latter part of the 19th century. The food served was light and delicate and the intricacy depended on how much you wished to impress your guests.  Liquid refreshments would include tea, coffee, wines etc.

What ‘Tea’ means to me…

For me, ‘Tea’ is a fairly fluid meal that embraces a number of different incarnations that have evolved for various occasions . For example the descriptions ‘Cream Tea’ or ‘High Tea’  provide a distinction to the food served or a Tea Dance tells you about the type of entertainment.  It goes without saying,  if you are English that these are all served in the afternoon – there is no need for the prefix ‘Afternoon’ as there is never any question that this would be served at any time other except after noon.

My view of the term ‘Afternoon Tea’

Intercontinental Afternoon TeaIn my view, what we know as ‘Afternoon Tea’ is a (late) 20th century creation that has evolved out of hotels and tea rooms. The three tier cake stand has become its symbol and embraces both a Cream Tea (a rustic farmhouse meal) and the delicate finger food of a Tea Party. The prefix has been attached to clarify what is being offered and the focus has been transferred from the tea-making paraphernalia to the food being presented by the pastry chef.

It is a modern luxury meal served  outside the home (much like in the picture of me above at the Intercontinental Hotel reviewing one of their Afternoon Teas).

It is a wonderful experience and a far cry from Miss Tabitha’s tea party. For me,  her tea party, held in the afternoon really is ‘traditional’ and ‘quintessentially English’.

Further Reading:

 Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Ward Locke. Various editions published 1870s to 1890s.

The Making of the Modern British Diet, Derek J Oddy, Derek J Miller,  Croom Helm London, 1976

Aunt Mavor’s picture books for little readers, George Routledge, London

The Gentleman’s daughter, Women’s Lives in Georgian England, Amanda Vickery, Yale University Press, 1999

Captivated by Jean-Etienne Liotard’s ‘Still Life: Tea Set’

Jean-Etienne Liotard - Still Life Tea Set

Still Life: Tea Set,  1781-1783,  Jean-Etienne Leotard (Swiss, 1702-1789), Oil on canvas mounted on board. J Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Museum South Pavilion, Gallery S203.  

I have quite fallen in love with this painting, which I only discovered recently in my continual quest to clarify the question,  ‘How and why is tea regarded as an English drink?’ For me this picture oozes sensuality that embodies the mystery and magic of Cathay, the country from which the tea has travelled. I just want to touch the delicately decorated porcelain and know more about the tea party that has just taken place.

What is it that we see in this picture?

We have a painted tole tray placed on a table. On the tray, the porcelain is decorated in the Chinese style (chinoiserie). There is a round bellied tea pot, a tea caddy, a lidded jug (either for milk or hot water), a bowl containing lumps of sugar, a plate containing some bread and butter, six tea bowls and saucers, and a large slop bowl into which any spent leaves can be placed. Each tea bowl and saucer has its own silver spoon and and there is a pair of silver sugar tongs sitting on the sugar bowl  to serve sugar into each cup.

What can I tell, just from looking at what is on display?

The delicate porcelain is likely to be European made and painted with what was perceived as Chinese imagery and fuelling our image of Cathay, “..… a continent of immeasurable extent lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world. Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. …..  Even if creating the delicate porcelain in ‘the known world’ , the magical exoticism of the East was still highly aspirational.

The delicate pale colour of the tea is worth noting; a delicate Chinese tea, possibly green or oolong. It looks a delicate elixir that I long to taste. The richly dark tea that is now regarded as being English tea is really Indian or Ceylon in origin and did not appear in Europe before the 1840s and only exceeded the  volume  of China tea sales by the 1890s.

The tea bowls have no handles and, as far I can see and would expect, the saucers have no indent shape for the cup. The European tea sets of this period were likely to be made in sets of twelve tea bowls (that later had a handle attached), twelve coffee cans and twelve saucers that could be used for either. It was not anticipated that tea and coffee would be served at the same time. **

The plate of bread and butter is another point of interest. I have found this bread and butter plate appearing in paintings relating to tea drinking as early as 1720 and, having read numerous Nineteenth Century housekeeping and cookery books, there is evidence that suggests that bread and butter was served alongside tea as to drink tea without any food might be injurious to health. I have found we English were slightly obsessed with bread and butter, serving this alongside sandwiches or toast, muffins or tea cakes! But that is a topic for a blog post all on its own.

Do we know anything about the tea party attendees?

This picture depicts the end of the party – there is a general sense of disorder and mess however there is also a display of (English) tea drinking etiquette of the period. Some cups have been turned upside down or alternatively the spoons have been placed in the tea bowl. These actions both indicate that the guest no longer wish to be served any more tea – they know how to demonstrate this to their host without either person having to say anything. Even though no people are in the picture the owner of the picture would have known the messages being transmitted; sophistication, refinement and knowledge of polite behaviour.

How can we relate this to today’s drinking etiquette?

There are still echoes of this opaque behaviour today. You wait until your hostess offers you the tea (or the second cup of tea). If she forgets to serve you (people could sit, not saying a word until the hostess notices her error) it would almost be impolite to highlight her ‘impolite’ behaviour. Being direct is not the English way – rituals are played out with coded behaviour such as turning the cup upside down or putting the spoon within the cup. In the same way, if someone offers you something on the tea table such as the jam or some milk, make sure that you offer it back to them – their offer to you might be an indirect request.

What tea should you consider drinking to capture the magic of this picture?

Newby's 100g Gourmet Caddy - Prime DarjeelingMy modern day favourite would be a delicate darjeeling. I recommend Newby Teas Gourmet Darjeeling (pictured right). I like the fact this mainly a second flush Darjeeling which almost has more flavour than a first but if it is an early season picking then you get the very delicate Muscatel taste. Newby is what I call a risk taker in the world of tea in that they trust their judgement in finding you good teas rather than relying on the latest tea selling trends – most tea companies now are selling early season single estate first flush Darjeelings and sometimes these can be a little thin on flavour.

The Newby Prime Gourmet tea is not cheap at £48 for 100grams (at time of writing) however it is good value. It comes in a caddy and is vacuum packed sealed for freshness.

I brewed the Newby Prime Darjeeling tea using water off the boil, around 90 degrees (although technically this is classed as a black tea, and usually boiling water is recommend, this would just scorch the very delicate leaves). Just a glorious nectar-like flavour and I can visualise the taste of when looking at Jean-Etienne Liotard’s painting.

I  offer tours around the Victoria and Albert Museum to show how Chinoiserie and tea, the drink of Cathay became embedded in British life – I’d love you to join me if this is something you would like to learn more about.


Chinoiserie, The Vision of Cathay, Honour, Hugh, 1973, John Murray, London, p5.                                 ** A Cup of Tea, An Afternoon Anthology of Fine China and Tea Traditions, Geraldine Holt, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1991, p16.

Tea Review: The Tea Makers, London

Caroline Hope Review of The Tea Makers

A few weeks ago I was sent a sample pack of teas to review from The Tea Makers. If you are thinking of buying anything tea-related for Christmas, their website is well worth a look – they have some beautifully presented products and a wide variety of teas. I asked my friend, Hugo to come and help me with the tasting as he is passionate about different teas, drinks and food. (He once presented me with a gift of smoked eel from his travels, for which I don’t think I was very grateful !). Here is our verdict…

Tea Tasting - The Tea Makers

My friend Hugo tasting the teas

Tea Types

A box duly arrived containing three teas, along with an unusual Tea infuser in which to brew the tea.

The three teas and infuser were:

For all three teas, I used freshly boiled water (100 degrees) and water straight from the tap. All three teas were brewed for 4 minutes before separating the leaves from the liquor. Here are our thoughts…

The Tea Makers DarjeelingDarjeeling House Blend

We both liked this. It had a pale, lively looking liquor and the leaves had a grassy, lemony aroma. The tea was soft, or smooth on the tongue with a slightly astringent finish. It has the typical floral sweet aroma of a good Darjeeling. I have also given this to other people and they have commented how nice it is. I would anticipate it is a blend of first and second flushes and recommend drinking this tea without milk.

The Tea Makers English BreakfastEnglish Breakfast

I noted this was a blend of 100% Ceylon teas, which I found interesting. English Breakfast is traditionally a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas in varying proportions according to the tea merchant. I was interested to see if this tea would deliver a similar punch. I felt the dry leaf was very dark in colour, almost inky black and looked quite ‘skinny’. According to Hugo “….. the wet leaf was very dark and had an agricultural aroma”. The liquor had a caramel colour and, despite not being as heavy as some English breakfast blends, it still packed a good punch to get you going

in the morning. I would suggest serving this with milk. It is typical of what is perceived today as a ‘British’ tea.

The Tea Maker's Luxury Ceylon PekoeLuxury Ceylon Pekoe

This was an interesting looking tea. The dry leaf had a greeny/grey hue and was rolled, presumably by hand, to almost look like some Oolong teas I have had. The brewed liquor was quite orange in colour, you could feel the tannins on the tongue, and it had a certain muddiness in taste – hints of puerh. For me, this was an unusual tea for Ceylon

The Magic Infuser

The Magic Infuser from The Tea MakerYou can brew the tea in the infuser as you would a glass tea pot, and you gain a sense of theatre as you watch the leaves change colour.

Once the tea is brewed you then place it over a mug or small pot and the liquor is released into the receptacle, leaving the spent leaves behind in the receptacle. For me, this is a tad gimmicky and I don’t find it an attractive looking object. It is made of plastic, so could be subject to staining in time. I also feel it does really retain the heat well enough during the brewing process for a black tea. The volume at 500ml is really suitable for 2 mugs and switching from one mug to another takes a bit of practice. Possibly it is more suited to brewing green or oolong teas that don’t require boiling water. There is no reason also why you could not rebrew the (green/oolong) leaves.

Overall View

I think The Tea Makers are well worth a look to buy some unusual teas this Christmas – one of my students on the City Lit tea tasting course ordered a lot of their sampling packs and was very pleased with what she received. They also do the tea pyramids or Trianes, superior large tea bags in which you can see the large leaves unfurling.

Thank you to Tea Makers for the opportunity to write a review of their teas. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Resources for your tea making, selection and enjoyment

Caroline Hope shares her tea sources

This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my tea workshops, tastings, courses or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your tea journey:

Places to buy good quality tea:

Screenshot 2015-11-23 14.23.53Probably the most well known tea merchant in London, Fortnum and Mason  have an excellent selection of high quality teas from a Puerh block of tea costing £3,000 down to the humble breakfast blend. All taste is catered for here. There is excellent advice from the staff about brewing techniques for each tea that is practical and not too faddy. They are happy to show you the different high grade leaves before you buy. I would recommend them for the special teas more than the every day ones.

Mariage Freres at SelfridgesMariage Freres at Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, London). This French company now have a concession in the basement in Selfridges. I found the tea buying experience quite different as all the staff are French and have very clear views on how all the teas should be brewed i.e. using water heated to 95 degrees for all their black teas which I found quite surprising. It is worth remembering that each nation has a different palate and how they enjoy their tea though. I did buy some excellent first flush Darjeeling here and again there is an opportunity to see and smell the leaves before you buy.

Newby Teas LondonNewby Teas (offices located at 105 St John Street, London EC1M 4AS;  Telephone 020 7251 8989). I worked for this company for some time and my appreciation of tea really came about during my time here. Excellent quality tea and very importantly the packaging of the tea is treated with equal respect. All their loose leaf tea is supplied in vacuum packed foil bags so it does not really age. It is possible to buy their loose leaf teas by mail order. A small selection of high quality loose leaf silken pyramid bags can be found in Waitrose. Really excellent superior ‘every day’ Darjeeling (first and second flush blend), and similar quality Assam, English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Excellent website for purchasing tea.

Postcard TeasPostcard Teas located  on Dering Street, (off Bond Street) London W1S 1AG (Tel: 020 7629 3654). Owned by an English husband and Japanese wife team, the focus in the shop is on very high quality delicate teas, early season Darjeelings, Chinese and Japanese teas. This shop has a far more oriental feel.

Rare Tea Company
The Rare Tea Company (tel: 020 7681 0115) have a small selection of very fine, mainly Chinese teas. Sold mainly by mail order and top end supermarkets. Henrietta Lovell owns the company – she calls herself the Tea Lady.

 

Canton Tea CompanyCanton Tea Company (tel: 0844 4176363) – another company specialising in high quality rare teas – many from China and Japan.

 

Twinings tea Twinings (on 216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP) is the most ‘English’ of tea companies, their history can be recorded back to the early 18th century. They have a tiny little shop just off the Strand with a large selection of teas that are of a far higher quality than those found on the standard supermarket shelf. The quality varies from a selection of top end teas to a wide range of cheaper teabags – the shop is charming and has many teas to choose from.

Algerian Coffee ShopThe Algerian Coffee Store (address: 52 Old Compton St, London, W1D 4PB, tel: 020 7437 2480). This company has been strongly recommended to me by a student on a tea tasting course I gave at City Lit. It is always worth remembering that Coffee Houses traditionally sold tea along with a variety of other products including tea – however always known as coffee houses.

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea  – so make sure you subscribe to get my new posts in your inbox.

Resources for your baking

I share my top sources
This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my baking courses, workshops or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your baking journey:

Ingredients and equipment:

Bien Manger french gourmet food and gifts

Bien Manger: a French website that sells lots of colourings and flavourings plus pistachio ‘flour’ (pre-ground pistachios – very expensive). Also try Atelier de Chef in Wigmore Street. 

Screenshot 2015-11-19 11.27.06Lakeland: Great equipment for the domestic kitchen and the only people who seem to sell textured piping bags that have such a good grip. They also sell microplane zesters and large rolls of siliconised baking paper.

DivertimentiDivertimenti: I got my blossom silicone heat distribution mats from them.

Little PodLittle Pod: Vanilla Paste – either buy direct from Little Pod – you can’t beat high quality vanilla. 100ml tube of paste costs £ 10.50 and lasts for about six months to a year with frequent use. Also available in Fortnum and Mason and WholeFoods.

The Spice Shop

The Spice Shop in Blenheim Crescent: they sell dried beetroot powder if you want to use a natural pink colouring.


Cake Craft worldCake Craft World – For boxes in which you can put your macarons or cakes AND Gel Food Colours – I recommend using SUGARFLAIR Gel EXTRA colour to prevent any browning – also excellent for Red Velvet Cake.

Cherry Tree PreservesThe Cherry Tree– excellent ‘home-made’ Curds and Preserves. I found the Passion Fruit a little runny (but fabulous taste). They make a Ginger Preserve and also a nice ‘solid’ Lemon Curd. 

If you have any further baking questions please do not hesitate to ask.  

Cake Decorating Company

The Cake Decoration Co. – infusions/colourings, everything for sugarcraft.

Screenshot 2015-11-23 12.41.32
Rycraft – stamps for biscuits or cookies – it is an American company. I ordered a stamp with a thistle on it for my Scottish shortbread (the emblem of Scotland).

Tiptree preserves and jams
Wilkin & Sons (Tiptree) – Their Little Scarlet Strawberry Jam – costs £3.99 per jar ( at time of writing). 
This is far superior to any other shop bought strawberry jam. The jam is made with miniature strawberries and only a finite amount of jam is produced each year using the fruit from a single harvest. It is almost double the price of their standard strawberry jam. 

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea – so make sure you subscribe to get my new posts in your inbox.

Taking Tea: Minding Your Manners

I find I am constantly asked about the etiquette of taking afternoon tea. Many visitors to the UK have a perception it is a meal to be taken along with a dose of ‘best behaviour’ – that we should sit up straight, dress elegantly and exude an air of refinement. There’s a sense of being on display to the world and our behaviour is being judged. But all we are doing is having a cup of tea and a cake, there’s nothing fancy about it, is there? Actually, there is. To understand the custom, we need to go back a few centuries…

Tea Drinking Takes Off

In a very brief précis, tea drinking became all the rage in Great Britain in the early 18th century. It was a time of change, when the Industrial Revolution was taking off – a period that spanned more than 150 years.

Tea had an increasingly important role to play in the lives of the emerging wealthy urban ‘middling’ classes. Up until this time, wealth was mainly derived from and held in the hands of the small elite of (predominantly aristocratic) landowners. With the business boom of the 17th and 18th centuries – along with new scientific advances and access to coal fuelling industrial expansion – the distribution of wealth shifted to the rapidly growing cities. A ‘nouveau riche’ urban middling class began to emerge who emulated the fashions of the monied landed gentry and aristocracy.

Keeping Up With The Jones’

This newly rich group desired opportunities to behave in public in a polite, genteel manner and drinking tea became a wonderful way to demonstrate this. Mothers would train their daughters in the art of the tea ceremony. We may laugh now, especially when we think of the present day teabag being dunked in a mug, but this social custom was steeped in importance. The customs around drinking tea provided a means to show the were good enough to mix with old money whilst also elevating themselves above the ranks from which they had come. Think of it like the modern day equivalent of having the latest iPhone 6 – there is that element of ‘being in the know’.

Take a look at Hogarth’s ‘The Harlot’s Progress’ series of paintings from 1735 (pictured below). Despite the subject, Moll, falling into moral ruin as she sells her body, she is still drinking tea to maintain an air of genteelness. The tea paraphernalia decreases in quality as her circumstances decline, but it shows how tea – despite its expense at the time – was such an easy way to demonstrate polite elegance, whoever you were. All you needed were china cups and a pinch of tea.

Harlot's Progress

Harlot’s Progress – picture 1

Harlot's progress - picture 2

Harlot’s Progress – Picture 2

Harlot's progress

Notice the fine china crashing to the floor, the first steps to ruin.

Harlot progress

Harlot’s progress – picture 3

Harlot's progress

Still maintaining appearances, tea is served on a simple table.

harlots progress

Harlot’s Progress – picture 4

Harlot's progress

Harlot’s progress – Picture 5

Harlot's progress

The crude stool has been kicked over and the tea paraphernalia smashed.

Harlot's progress

Harlot’s progress – Picture 6

Shall I Be Mother?

I think taking tea still has an air of gentility or genteelness about it, which has been passed down through the ages, from the early Georgians, to the popularity of serving afternoon tea in the late 19th century – another period of social change and a growing middle classes.

Etiquette still has a role to play today. If I were visiting someone in their home for tea, for example, I’d happily help myself to food on the table. I would never dream of pouring tea from my host’s teapot, though. It could be seen as a mark of disrespect. Similarly, when out for tea in an hotel or cafe, we often use the expression “Shall I be Mother?” One person takes on the ceremony of pouring the tea.

I recently saw ‘Charles III’ in London’s West End and I cringed a little when he said, “Shall I be Mother?” to a visiting minister. There was no need to say it, he was already the host, but maybe that is just me – I am picky when it comes to taking tea and minding your manners!

You can learn more about tea customs, tea tasting and afternoon tea at one of my workshops or demonstrations. If you would like to join me for the special event at the Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe on 26 April – then use the code SCONES to get a 15% discount because you are one of my readers.

Special Tea Tasting Masterclass at the Swan at Shakespeare's Globe

Tea Tasting Tour of the V& A

Up On a Mountain Top in The Lake District I Contemplate: What Makes Tea Special?

Lak District Hike with Mountain Hikes

I recently went on a hiking week-end in the beautiful Lake District with my hosts Kevin and Yen Yau from Mountain Hikes. Even in the outdoors and in the basic of environments I was reminded of the specialness of “hosting” that comes with serving tea – in any location.Group mountain hike, Lake District

“Shall I be mother?” Kevin said as he surveyed the assorted small teapots in which he had brewed tea in the Youth Hostel kitchen. Tired and happy, eight of us were sitting in the pool room of the Keswick YHA after our first day’s hiking in the Lake District. Kevin’s partner Yen had placed a pile of beautifully light, scones, she had freshly baked the night before. All of us dived into the clotted cream and home made jam as Kevin then poured out mugs of tea for us.tea and cake

The tea parties at the end of each of our walks provided such a warm and welcoming highlight to each day that the functional furnishings of the Youth Hostel around us just disappeared. It was the display of care and love in the preparation of the food and the brewing of our tea that I still hold in my mind as I write.

Tea party at Youth Hostel, Lake Dsitrict

Kevin had taken on the role of the host having brewed and poured the tea. I find it intriguing to realise that even with the most basic of tea parties there was a tug from the past that dates back three hundred years.

In the early 18th century tea drinking was embraced by a burgeoning, newly rich urban 18th Century Tea Party‘middling’ class to demonstrate their skills of politeness and ‘genteelness’. They were copying the recent fashion embraced by the very small elite strata of society whose wealth had been derived from land ownership. What better way to show off knowledge of polite behaviour and good taste than for the lady of the house to orchestrate her own tea making ceremony, laying out her delicate tea equipage? I am sure that without realising it you have seen contemporary paintings and prints in which you see a family ensemble taking tea. These pictures are akin to Instagram or Facebook posts of today telling the world that the recorded group is sophisticated and fashionable. In these paintings it is the lady of the house who is demonstrating her skill and technique in making the tea and it would have been disrespectful to have tried to usurp her position and pour from her tea pot.

Kevin was taking on this role in a public place i.e. by suggesting that he play ‘mother’ he would take on the position of authority at our tea table. This used to happen when women started going out for tea in the 20th century: if two friends were to meet one of them would take on the role of pouring the tea and thus in charge of requesting more hot water, fresh pot, etc. This saying has possibly died out now as most hotels and cafes usually serve individual pots of tea and we each take ownership of that to pour out. Food is fine to help yourself but with the serving of tea you wait to be offered.

What makes tea special?

It is the sitting down together, conversing and enjoying a refreshing cup along with the secret ingredients of care and love. Kevin and Yen Yau provided this in spades and I urge you to join them next year on one of the hiking weekends in the Lake District. Yen might even give you her secret scone recipe!

Tea Party on the balcony

I would highly recommend looking at Kevin and Yen’s website > Mountin Hikes. They provide guided walks in the Lake District as well as hiking and yoga breaks.  You can follow them on Twitter at @Mountain_hikes or on Facebook at Lakes Mountain Hikes.