English Tea: Downton Abbey Style

Today I did something I never thought would happen - I presented on English tea. Specifically English tea etiquette.

What's worse is that I had a lot of fun doing it.

English tea culture centers around the destruction of everything I hold dear - it celebrates inferior tea, it was born out of a naive understanding of other country's culture, it places an unsettling amount of respect on the upper class aristocracy, and the worst part is it's so boring. As a fan of Downton Abbey, that portion of the event did capture my attention.

I was asked by Jerred Hamilton, the new owner of Glenwood Tearoom, to pinch-hit for him at a ladies' tea event. Though we have yet to officially meet, I took the opportunity as a challenge. He linked me to a website that gave an overview of English tea etiquette and everything else was pretty wide-open.

The ladies were dressed in terrific 1920s-style dress, and the tables were beautifully spread. I had fun meeting the hostess and Phylis Caskey a local author. The small audience was warm and genuinely interested, asking some great questions that made me want to be there for an hour. I look forward to working with Glenwood Tearoom again, and though this experience didn't give me a newfound appreciation for English tea blends over traditional teas, I enjoyed researching the subject and tailoring the experience to Downton Abbey.

Tea Etiquette - During Tea
● Hold: The correct way to hold your handle is by making your thumb and index finger meet in the handle. The cup is supported by the handle resting on your middle finger. Never hook your finger through.
● Pinky: The biggest misconception of British tea culture is the pinky. Do not stick your pinky straight out, but keep it casually wrapped with the rest of your fingers.
● Milk: Milk is to be added after the tea, as you would coffee. The myth of adding milk first stems from the servants of a large house who used to drink from unrefined clay mugs which could crack when hot tea was poured, so they popped a bit of milk in, before, to act as a coolant.The upstairs of the house drank from fine bone china or porcelain so did not need to.
● Sugar: Sugar or lemon juice are perfectly acceptable to add to your tea.
● Folding: After brewing, remove the tea bag from the cup and place it on a side saucer or in a slop bowl. Do not use the string to wrap around or squeeze the tea bag.
● Spoon: When stirring your tea after adding milk, sugar, or lemon, place your spoon the center of the cup and stir in a back-and-forth motion between 6 o'clock and 12 o’clock. Do not let your spoon clink against the tea cup. When finished, retire the spoon on the saucer behind the tea cup with the handle of the spoon in the same direction as the tea cup’s handle.
● Napkin: Napkins are unfolded and placed in your lap throughout the meal. If you are excused, place the napkin in your seat until you return. The host or hostess marks the end of tea by placing her napkin on the table, allowing the other guests to join, concluding the meal.

● During the era of Downton Abbey, the ladies would have done something called ‘Turning the table’ to ensure that everyone had someone to chat to during the duration of the gathering. The seating arrangement would be boy-girl-boy-girl, and for the first course the women would have spoken to the guest on their left, then they would turn to talk to the guest on their right for the second course. You would not have spoken across the table, as the tables were fairly wide and it isn't very proper.
● Married couples would have traditionally been seated separately, as they are grateful for the time apart from each other. Whereas unmarried or engaged couples would have been seated together – much like Matthew and Mary before they tied the knot – because they would have not been allowed to spend time together unchaperoned.

● skon: Pronounced “skon”, these afternoon tea staples are to broken apart with one’s hands. After they are broken apart you may add butter, cream or jam to each piece individually.
● Similar to the skon, finger sandwiches are to be eaten with your hands. Deserts require a dessert fork.

Tea Times
● Afternoon Tea: The traditional tea time, typically at 3:00pm but may land anywhere between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Light pastries and sandwiches are served. Cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon were typical ingredients in high society finger sandwiches.
● High Tea: Though a confusing name, High Tea refers to tea served later in the day, rather than by high society. Working class families would eat this meal consisting of tea and heartier foods such as hot casseroles and meats. This confusion was perpetuated by Australians who consider tea time to be a brief break, such as the American coffee break, rather than a “high” affair.
● Royal Tea: For Queen Elizabeth II, afternoon tea takes place at 4:00pm with the company of her corgis. Her favorite teas are Earl Grey and Darjeeling.

Tea Lecture - After Tea
What is tea?
● Camellia sinensis
● caffeine & L-theanine

Where does it come from?
● Originally only in southern China
● An English scientist and explorer, Robert Fortune, brought tea to India in 1848.
● During the early 1900s, only 10% of tea was imported from China, with the colonies of India and Ceylon dominating the market.

English Tea
● The Dutch were the first to bring tea to Europe in 1610 AD
● Due to the preference of the Europeans, “black tea” as a tea style was invented in the 1650s for export
● Tea comes to London in 1657 and was originally marketed as a medicinal drink
● It was due to the 1662 marriage of King Charles II to Queen Catherine, who was a heavy tea drinker, that tea started to become synonymous with the sophisticated upper class.
● Jumping ahead to 1840, the Dutchess of Bedford creates the tradition of “afternoon tea”

Downton Abbey
● In the context of Downton Abbey, which beings in 1912, the invention of the “tea bag” was only 4 years old and Thomas Lipton had started his chain of tea shops earlier in 1880.
● During the first World War, the British government made it a priority to maintain the import of tea, however many of their ships were sunk resulting in rationing.
● During the conclusion of the show, in 1925, the author P. G. Wodehouse popularizes and possibly coins the phrase “cuppa”

What styles of tea were popular at the time?
● Blended tea was an invention of Europe, mainly used to create a packaged product that always tastes the same, preserve tea during shipping, and to disguise the use of lower grade tea.

3 Types of Blended Tea

  1. Breakfast teas - hearty black teas such as English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, and Scottish Breakfast
  2. Afternoon teas - Lighter than the Breakfast blends, such as Earl Grey and Prince of Wales
  3. Russian Caravan - A smokey tea, whose name originates from the camel caravans that brought tea from China to Russia