What are the first three words that pop into your head when you think of England?
One of them was probably tea, right? Tea is an essential part of life in Britain, and is just as important to Brits as coffee is to us in the United States.
My British friend and former coworker, Greg, has shared a lot with me about tea and willingly paid an arm and a leg to meet up with Javi and I for our recent afternoon tea experience at The Orangery (on the grounds of Kensington Palace in London). We had a great time and I thought it would be fun to share some tea knowledge from an actual Brit!
Hilary: OK. So, tea. What’s the first thing I should know about Brits and their tea obsession?
Greg: The first thing you should know is that it is a massive part of British culture however the phenomenon of drinking tea is not something we are totally conscious of. We do drink tea, we enjoy the taste, we invite people over for tea. Yes it is integrated into our lives but we haven’t purposely integrated tea into it though. We have so many different varieties of tea and people usually stick to one type. Some people can usually get very defensive over their choice of tea!
Hilary: Perhaps it’s not as popular for us considering we dumped all of it into the Boston Harbor in the 18th Century.
Greg: I hate America.
Hilary: What should an American know about tea time?
Greg: It is a bit of a stereotype but to an extent it does exist. We literally fill a kettle of water and make tea (or make a teapot) and serve up with a few small biscuits or cakes. There isn’t a designated hour to have tea but it is mainly used as a break in the day or as something to do when you meet up with somebody. You will commonly hear English people say, “Fancy a cuppa?” (Meaning would you like a cup of tea).
Hilary: What is one quintessential English tea flavor?
Greg: Breakfast tea. Literally we just call it tea as it is the default when we have tea but I understand this is the term used abroad. It is so simple but it is the best.
Hilary: So original…
Greg: Got to be
The Orangery at Kensington Palace
Hilary: Is “dunking” a thing for you guys? Some people like to dunk their donuts or cookies in coffee or milk on this side of the pond.
Greg: Definitely. Dunking is an art in tea time. Beware. The timing of dunking your digestive into a cup of tea is absolutely essential if you don’t want a soggy mess falling into your cup.
Hilary: What do you dunk in your tea?
Greg: Any biscuit I can lay my hands on! 45 minutes ago, I was dunking a malted milk into my tea at my friend’s flat! Digestives and hobnobs are two of my favourites.
Hilary: Cough, cookie, cough. #sillybritishvocabulary
Hilary: Some people have never heard of adding milk to a cup of tea. Is it something everyone does there? When should it be added/what temperature should it be, etc?
Greg: It is in breakfast tea that milk is normally always taken however you can just have “black tea”. The majority of people I know always take milk and some add sugar or sweetener as well. There is a massive debate as to when you should put the milk into a cup of tea. One side says you should put the tea bag and the milk in and then add water. Other say you should put the tea bag in followed by water and then milk. The latter is what I do but my dad does it the other way around. The milk added is normally always cold.
Hilary: What’s better? Loose leaf or tea bags?
Greg: Loose leaf is meant to be nicer but I only ever have tea bags.
Hilary: How should one actually drink tea? I’m sure slurping is out of the question. Should you hold the saucer underneath the cup whilst drinking?
Greg: That’s right, normally you hold the saucer underneath to catch the drips. It isn’t necessary to hold the saucer every time though. The handles on teacups are quite small so you just need a good grip with three fingers.
And definitely no slurping. It’s not good etiquette.
Hilary: How many cups of tea would you theoretically drink during tea time? During an entire day?
Greg: During tea time from 1-3. In an entire day, it varies from about 2-7 cups.
Hilary: Can you reuse a tea bag more than once? Should the tea bag stay in the cup or should it be seeped first and then removed?
Greg: A teabag can only be used once. It should be disposed of once you have let it reach the right strength and before you add the milk.
Hilary: What’s your take on afternoon teas directed towards tourists? Is it just an over-the-top marketing scheme?
Greg: Afternoon tea is considered to be a treat. An opportunity to splash your cash and it is usually done for special occasions. I think the stereotype for tourists is that afternoon tea is very common, however it is not that huge. It has been converted into a tourist activity now to get the “true British experience” but I feel they are being slightly mislead and at quite a price as well.
Hilary: What can you expect to eat at an afternoon tea?
Greg: You will always get sandwiches and scones at afternoon tea. Then, you will have a varied selection of cakes and sweet treats such as Victoria sponge slices, macaroons, mini yoghurt based deserts, meringue etc. And of course, your choice of tea!
Hilary: How does one pronounce “scones?”
Greg: Haha, this is debatable! It depends on where you are from. If you are from the south of England or talk the “Queens English” you would pronounce scone to make it rhyme with “throne”. If you are from anywhere else, you pronounce scone to make it rhyme with “gone”. I am from near Manchester (in the North) so I say scone like “gone”!
Hilary: Anything else I should know about British tea culture?
Greg: Where I am from, we refer to tea as a brew or a cuppa! When British people go abroad, they always say the tea is not the same. I have tried tea in other countries and I really dislike it (some of it can be diabolically bad). You can’t beat British tea!
Hilary: Thank you for the enlightening information! I must say that having afternoon tea was my favorite experience in the UK (so far). I look forward to practicing the art of tea drinking in the most British way possible!
Greg: Hahaha no probs! Glad I could have been of some help! I am so glad it lived up to your expectations!
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My trip to London inspired me to draw some teapots! Check out all the color combinations and available products in my Redbubble and Society6 stores.