maandag 12 januari 2009

How afternoon tea was invented - part 2

So when did all this tea drinking go on?

The beverage was offered to visitors to the house at almost any time of day (and the house would have been an elegant and expensive town house or a country mansion), but the most important time for tea was after the main meal of the day.

In the mid-17th century, dinner was served at any time between 11 am and 12 noon and was a rich, heavy, alcoholic meal that lasted for anything up to 3 or 4 hours. Once all the food had been devoured, the men liked to stay at the table in the dining room and smoke, chat, and drink more wine, ale, brandy or port. (It was not uncommon for men to drink so much in those days that they ended up under the table in a drunken stupor!)

So the ladies were expected to withdraw to a smaller closet or boudoir to talk more quietly, sew, brew tea, and generally behave in a more elegant way than their menfolk. When, at about 5 or 6 pm, the men eventually decided that they had had enough of their smoking, drinking, and loud conversation, they would join the ladies for tea in the drawing room or closet. Sometimes they also played cards or listened to some form of musical entertainment until a light supper was served and the guests then departed.

So, right from the earliest days of tea drinking in England in the second half of the 17th century, certain patterns developed which eventually influenced the ritual of afternoon tea in the early 19th and on into the 20th.

Taking tea was always associated with elegant rooms set well away from the kitchen, with fine porcelain tea wares, silver spoons, sugar nippers, and kettles, with beautiful tables carved by craftsmen, and with the elegant manners of society ladies - as it was through the Victorian period and still is today.

The brewing of the liquor was always the responsibility of the lady of the house (or gentleman if he lived alone), sometimes with the help of the eldest daughter, and was carried out in the room where the tea was to be served. Today of course we brew our tea in the kitchen but it is still the duty of the hostess to pour and serve it. Usually, the only food to be served to accompany the tea was very thin slices of bread and butter. That has developed, of course, into a more elaborate menu but bread, toast, muffins, tea-cakes, crumpets and other bread-like foods are still a very important part of a traditional tea. And, the most important time of day for drinking tea was in the late afternoon - in the early days at the end of the main meal, but (as we all now know) in the 19th century and today between lunch and dinner.

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