My grandmother, who lives near the sea, by the White Cliffs of Dover, has an induction stove—or hob, as she calls it—that can boil a kettle in a literal minute. She says she installed it to heat up her pots and pans more quickly, and get dinner on the table in a speedier fashion.
I think, though, that the real reason for having the stove is to decrease the amount of time between desiring a cup of tea and imbibing one.
It seems to me that she makes a dozen cups of tea a day with that hob, because in her mind, almost anything justifies having a cuppa. Where she lives, she is not unique in this. She is simply, quintessentially English.
An English Love Affair
When is tea time in England? First thing in the morning, of course. And then after breakfast. And then after a long walk. It’s after running errands—or in the middle of running errands, if a pick-me-up is needed. After lunch is the perfect time for a good cup of tea, as is the middle of the afternoon, or when a friend comes ‘round. The perfect time for a good cup of tea is after arriving home from work, or if you’ve received some really good news, or some really bad news.
In short, you would be hard-pressed to find a time that is not appropriate for tea time.
The English are famous for their love affair with tea. Souvenirs in airports and department stores throughout England include English breakfast tea and cups with double deckers drawn on them.
The drink is widely believed to have become popular in England under the reign of Charles II, in the 1600s. Imported on trade ships from the Far East, tea was loved by Charles’ wife, Catherine of Braganza. As a royal who influenced the public, she was a catalyst in making tea a national habit and daily rhythm. In the 1700s, tea shops began to appear across the country and have since become an iconic symbol of what it means to be English.
In England, a cup of tea almost always means English breakfast tea, a black tea blend often served with a little bit of milk and sometimes sugar. There’s spirited debate among tea drinkers about whether the milk should be put in before or after the tea, and though George Orwell makes a fair argument for the latter in his essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea,” I have to disagree.
I am a firm believer in putting the milk in before the tea. When you pour in the hot tea after, it scalds the milk just enough to change the flavor of the whole cup. Plus, there is no need to stir.
Comfort and Identity
My parents left England for a job in the United States shortly before I was born, but they brought their love for tea with them.
We grew up with tea time as a part of our day, so that now, there are few sounds more evocative of the feelings of home than that of freshly boiled water being poured into a tea cup. I can’t recall, when I came home after a bad day at school, if what I experienced first was my mom’s hug or the sound of her putting the kettle on. Maybe to me, they are the same thing.
The comfort went both ways. Tea was the first food-related item my parents taught me to make, and I knew, at the age of seven or eight, that the easiest, surefire way to put a smile on their faces was by walking into a room with a tray full of steaming cups.
Whenever we drove to the airport to pick up family visiting from England, I remember bringing a thermos of hot tea and a little jug of milk so that our visitors could have a nice cuppa before the journey home. It is one of life’s little gifts for me, to grow up on the other side of the world from my grandparents but to know how they take their cups of tea.
Today, in my own home, I find myself reaching for the kettle nearly as often as my grandma does across the pond.
After a long day, the first thing I want when I walk through the door is a steaming hot cuppa. When a friend drops in for a playdate or a conversation, I put the kettle on right away. Several cups of tea are woven into my daily rhythms.
One of my daughter’s first words was a three-in-one combination of “Cuppatea?” which she would ask as she toddled into the kitchen holding up a sippy cup.
A good cup of tea is a pause; it’s not meant for slurping down on the go. Tea time is an event, an invitation to a long enough break in the day to look around and notice it. It’s a deep breath of exhalation, a sense of belonging, a symbol of hospitality.
To me, it is a comfort and a luxury that makes up so much of who I am and where I come from.
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea
- Fill up a kettle with filtered water and let it boil.
- Place two tea bags (I like PG Tips; my grandmother is partial to Yorkshire Gold) into a teapot. Pour boiling water over the top.
- Allow to steep for 3 minutes.
- Pour a splash of milk—about two tablespoons—into a tea cup.
- Pour the steeped tea into the cup. Enjoy with a biscuit, or better yet, a fresh scone.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com