Call us old-fashioned, but we believe that an afternoon tea break is a panacea for many ills. A cup of tea should always be taken with a little something sweet, which makes it the perfect pick-me-up for a hectic afternoon. No matter if your day dishes up school-holiday mayhem, back-to-back meetings or an overflowing laundry basket or two, give yourself five minutes to raid the cake tins and make yourself a hot cup of tea. You’ll hit the 3 p.m. mark civilised and smiling.
One proof of this superpower comes from the memoirs of World War II. Tea was a scarce commodity during these years, with much of it being sent to the troops on the front line to boost morale. Teabags were reused several times over to eke out one more cuppa – ‘Where there is tea, there is hope!’ they would say as the teabag did the 5th round; and no one asked for milk or sugar.
While all this tea talk may sound as quintessentially British as Charles Dickens or a royal coronation, tea actually originated in the ancient civilisation of China several thousand years earlier. The uninteresting greyish-green leaves were first introduced to Britain in the early 17th century via the East India Company. The habit of drinking tea mid-afternoon was made popular by the wife of King Charles II, who enjoyed hers with the requisite triangles of cucumber sandwiches and then in 1717, the first tea shop was opened by Thomas Twining of London. The House of Twining was later granted a royal warrant by Queen Victoria and, 300 years on, Twinings is still in business and still supplying the Royal household with tea.
During the mid-1800s, whilst ladies sipped Earl Grey from delicate china cups between dainty mouthfuls of scone, a tea battle was heating up between China, British East India and the colonies. No mere storm in a teacup, this involved intrigue, disguise and corporate espionage that brought back the secrets of Chinese tea plantations to British colonies resulting in prolific tea cultivation across the world. No doubt governors across the British Empire celebrated with a hot cuppa and a Shrewsbury biscuit when they heard the news.
These days, the tradition of afternoon tea is very much alive and well, and it’s one we don’t want to break – not for all the tea in China!
A fresh pot of tea and some baked treats are all you need to entertain friends who drop by or just to enjoy a brief interlude in a busy day. So – may your tea always be hot, and your cake tins always full!