Life in the UK: A cup of tea

My son started drinking tea when he was around three years old. Inconceivable to me that a son of mine would latch on to this drink when so young, but hey, we live in Britain. It remains his favo(u)rite drink; he must have a cuppa (decaf, natch) before going to bed, as well as when he comes home from school.

IMG_3554The British obsession with tea remains, even if some of the younger, cool set aren’t addicted. “I’ll put the kettle on,” is a common declaration when one gets home, and I’ve heard of couples interrupting their fights for a cuppa. (I wonder if as they sipped, the conflict intensified, with each person stewing over what to say next, or whether the hot drink soothed them and calmed things down.) Tea is served after church, in homes, to the workers who install new floors or radiators, to friends and family.

Americans drink tea too, but they are known for their love of coffee. Me? I’m not a huge hot-drinks person, although since moving here I drink one or two cups of tea a day. Chai, mind you, and a decaf after dinner. Coffee? Nope; haven’t learned to like it.

Why is tea so rooted in the national consciousness in the UK? The weather is an obvious reason. When you’re living in a climate where the damp gets into your bones, and you can’t get warm no matter how many hot water bottles you strew across your body or how many layers you pile over you, a hot cup of tea spreads its warmth from within.

Another reason is rooted in history. The mighty British Empire had tea at its disposal, having introduced it to India. This little island loves its independence, so it makes sense to consume a drink that differentiates it from the coffee-loving Continent. Of course, the rebel colony now called the USA loves coffee for similar reasons – we dumped over that tea in Boston and have never looked back.

And another reason must be culture. Various upper class women are named as the creators of the practice of afternoon tea; the one I’ve heard most often is Queen Victoria herself, who felt peckish between the long hours of lunch and the evening meal, calling for a cup of tea around 4pm. But online searches say that  Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, was the originator. It’s not surprising that the upper classes came up with this custom, for tea used to be wildly expensive. I’ve been through country houses where they proudly display the ornate wood boxes where the tea was stored, to which only the lady of the house had the key.

I think I’ll go make a cup of tea.

How about you? Whether Brit or American or other nationality, do you like tea? Why or why not? If so, how many cups a day do you drink? Do you have a drinks routine, from which life cannot go on if you aren’t able to adhere to it?

2 Responses

  1. I drink about 8 cups (mugs) of tea a day, one for breakfast, one when I arrive at work, one for elevenses…and so on. I have managed to live without it for days at a time in the past, but a good cup of tea is so comforting and delicious it’s hard to beat.

    You also forgot (our maybe haven’t come across) the ‘prescription’ of hot, sweet tea for shock. We Brits swear by it, and I can tell you from experience that it works!:-)

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