You call it afternoon tea, but in Britain it’s just called tea. Because you don’t just have tea in the afternoon. You have tea all the time.
It’s the first thing we have when we wake up. It’s the first thing you’re offered if you walk into someone’s house—whether it’s blinding sunshine or rain, sleet, and snow—because it’s assumed that everyone loves tea.
If someone is upset, you’d say, “Come on, let’s sit down and have a nice cuppa tea.” That’s cuppa, c-u-p-p-a. That’s a standard thing. If you have bad news in the family, you’d honestly say, “Let’s sit down and have a nice cuppa tea” before anything else.
Tea solves everything.
Tea for Tipping
Having or making a cup of tea is a bit of an icebreaker. When people come to your house, whether they’re fixing a broken boiler or building a new conservatory in the garden, you provide them a never-ending stream of tea—in a proper mug, only ever in a proper mug, don’t give it to me in a plastic cup—and it’s our way of saying thanks. We’d never give them a tip; we only give them tea.
Yes, we tip hard labor with tea.
Afternoon tea has become really popular in England, but it’s not for the tea because we drink tea like water. It fuels us. At afternoon tea in the UK, we drink champagne. It’s more of a celebration, an excuse to get together. It’s more about the scones, pastries, and cakes, and there’s always champagne.
Between lunch and supper, tea is a good excuse to have cup and a piece of cake to tide you over ’til dinnertime. But you always eat so much you feel sick. You start with a scone. You have some finger sandwiches. You can’t leave the cakes out. So you just end up coming out a good size bigger than you went in, and that was just tea. You’ve still got dinner to go!
How Do You Take Your Tea?
People like it prepared differently. My parents will only drink tea if it’s been brewed in a teapot. My nan, my aunt, they all like it from a teapot—it’s generational. Me, I'm happy with it brewed in the cup. People are really particular about mugs as well. My parents only like a thin china mug; I like a thick chunky mug. I honestly think it tastes better that way.
Also, we only drink it with milk, not cream, and none of that skimmed rubbish either. You’ve gotta have a little fat in there. It’s meant to taste good.
I would categorically like to say that black tea is not English tea.
Don’t even give me Lipton. You know you’re in a foreign country when you are served the yellow Lipton teabag. Where’s my PG Tips?
Tea in the U.S.
My mum sends me packages of PG Tips, which you can buy in stores now (Ralph’s and Cost Plus). You also can buy Tetley’s and Yorkshire tea; those are both northern teas, so they’re stronger. PG Tips is for us southern fairies. It’s not as strong, but I love it. You can get it here, but it’s expensive, so Mum supplies me. She once sent me a clear Ziploc bag full of teabags. It looked like drugs, but she labeled it “PG Tips Decaf.”
I guarantee you The Queen is fueled by tea. She probably drinks Earl Grey, though. None of that for this queen.
All this talking about tea has made me thirsty; I’m going to make myself a brew.
For O.C.'s Best Afternoon Teas as named in our May 2014 issue, click here.