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UK Culture: Tea, tea and more tea!

19 września 2016, poniedziałek,

Fancy a cuppa?

This is a phrase you might hear on a building site, in an office, at home – pretty much anywhere. It might be one of the most commonly said phrases on any typical day in Britain. The meaning? – “Would you like a cup of tea”. And here I have to say that it is usually a question about tea, not coffee, although these days the UK is increasingly a coffee drinking nation.

A classic British Cuppa

Tea is a very British thing. I went to America a few years ago and they seem to drink all kinds of herbal teas, but not just tea – black, normal tea. I know it’s got various forms now, which are becoming more and more popular – green, white, red and with all kinds of flavourings, but for me regular black tea with a drop of milk and no sugar is the business*. And please  do not confuse this with “bawarka” , the English generally do not add more than a centimetre of milk to their cuppa, more likely half a centimetre.

Tea time; Image credit: www.assets.britishcouncil.org

Tea time; Image credit: www.assets.britishcouncil.org

A history of tea and the tea leaves

 Where did this British obsession with tea start from? What’s interesting is that coffee preceded tea in Britain and actually it was coffee houses that started selling tea. This all happened in the 17th Century as trade with the Far East was flourishing. However, it was Catherine of Braganza, who was both a tea addict as well as King Charles II’s wife, who made tea fashionable in the upper echelons* of British society. By about 1750 everyone was drinking tea and it became a UK household essential.

What time is tea time?

 I have heard English people referred to in Poland as “Fajwokloki” and most Poles would say that this is when English people down* tools, weapons or whatever we have in our hands and go for a cuppa.

Tradition states that Anna Maria, the wife of the Duke of Bedford, began the trend of afternoon tea parties at 5pm in the 1840s. C.S. Lewis said “The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident*, and not later than a quarter past four.” Personally, in my household 3 or 4pm was the most popular tea time choice.

Is there any point in tea?

According to Gladstone, „If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.” And you only need to watch British soap operas to see the truth in this comment. When there’s a problem,  it is discussed over a cuppa,  when they come in from the cold they warm up with a cuppa,  it’s just a great occasion to talk with friends and family. If you have a cup in your hand it’s also trickier to use your phone, ipad or computer, so the cuppa could be saving society – building friend and family relationships!

Tea time; Image credit: www.assets.britishcouncil.org

Tea time; Image credit: www.assets.britishcouncil.org

How to make it?

There are many “recipes” – George Orwell, for example, was very strict in his tea preparation and had 11 rules to be followed – serious business. My personal favourite goes like this:

Boil the water and use this water to rinse out your teapot.
Add the tea (or teabags).
Add your water.
Leave until it’s as strong as you like it.
Pour about half a centimetre of milk into your china tea cup.
Add the tea (through a tea-strainer if you used leaf tea).
Take a “ginger nut” biscuit to eat with your tea – feel free to dunk*.


So, BritIt readers – how do you take your tea?  Have you ever noticed Brits obsession with tea when you have visited the UK? Let me know your tea tales via the comment box.

Useful Language from the article:

To be the business – to be super
Echelon – level or rank
Down – as a verb – to put down
Coincident – happening at the same time
Dunk – to quickly put a biscuit into a drink and then eat it before it drops to the bottom of the cup