Take tea with the Porridge LadyBy Anna Louise Batchelor
July 06, 2010
There is something quintessentially English about afternoon tea; from the elegant cups and saucers, to the delicate cucumber sandwiches, fine sweet pastries and cakes.
Served on the lawn in summer or in one of the nations many tea rooms, afternoon tea is an English institution.
While seen as very ‘English’ tea has a potted history with roots that travel around the globe, in every continent from China to India, Africa and beyond.
While recorded history differs on when tea actually arrived in England, the fashion for afternoon tea was indisputably started by The Duchess of Bedford in the 18th century. Looking for something to stave off hunger pangs, at a time when ladies did not lunch, the Duchess started the trend for taking tea with thin slices of bread.
Soon this developed into taking tea with guests, an afternoon in the drawing room with female friends and cake!
In the Duchesses' time, tea was extraordinarily expensive, the preserve of the upper classes. As imports rose and taxes on them fell, tea became accessible to the middle class lady.
Soon the fashion for afternoon tea swept across the county; from hotels to new tea rooms, from grand institutions like the Savoy to more modest tea shops where ladies could opt for just a simple cup of tea and a slice of something sweet.
Fashions for tea, wax and wane, and as an avid tea drinker I am happy to see the fortunes of tea on the rise. In recent years there has been something of a tea revival, tea has become cool again thanks to groups like the Tea Appreciation Society.
The society sees tea as something to make time for, something to share with friends. Tea needs time; it needs a break from the working day. The kettle needs to boil and the tea to brew, a process somewhat ritualistic.
Talking on tea breaks Tom Hodgkinson, author of ‘The Idler’ writes; “…. tea break has a lot in common with the tea ritual of China and Japan, which was intimately bound up with the seeking of enlightenment”.
Enlightenment or refreshment you know tea is fashionable when places start popping up in London.
From Bloomsbury’s Bea’s tea rooms to Mudchute‘s urban farm kitchen afternoon tea has once again become de rigueur in the city. With this resurgence it’s great to see new British tea companies like Tea Pigs, Rare Tea Company and Lahloo joining established tea connoisseurs Jing Tea.
This time afternoon tea’s resurgence is actually English.
Just outside of the Cornish City of Truro, tea is actually being grown on the Tregothnan Estate. With a long history of horticulture the estate has now turned its attention to growing tea.
Never to be out done by the English, Wales has also joined the tea growing trend. The Pembrokshire Tea Company not only has several tea nursery’s and small tea plantations, but also a tea research station, tea processing facility, and tea rooms serving their fine teas accompanied by local food. Did I also mention they have a water mill for oats!
While both estates only grow some of their tea at this stage, which is blended with fine imported leaves, it is exciting to think that we could soon see a truly British cuppa.
You don’t have to travel outside of Berkshire and Hampshire to enjoy the finest of afternoon teas. As painful as it has been I have quiet literally done the leg work for you! I have walked and cycled the length and breadth of the counties to find some of the best tea rooms and here are my recommendations;
Waltham Place, White Waltham, Maidenhead. Afternoon tea is served with scones and cake made by the estate chef. The tea also includes milk from the estates Jersey cow herd which is turned into butter and cream by the chef.
Pierreponts, Goring-on-Thames. A stylish café which serves pots of loose leaf tea and café made cakes.
Mapledurham Estate, Reading. Serving teas in the grand estate house accompanied by scones made with flour from the estates watermill.
If you like to stay at home for afternoon tea then I can highly recommend Maidenhead's ‘Happy Cakes’. Using locally sourced, fair trade and organic ingredients you can be sure that the people and hens that make your cakes are as happy as you are when you eat them.
You can buy these delicious cakes direct or from the True Food Co-op shop in Emmer Green, Reading.
Now I love a good afternoon tea at anytime of the year but in summer I love nothing more than a ‘Tea Picnic’. Following on from last months article on picnics I think you can make the most of the summer sun by taking tea on the lawn, even if it is only a little patch of raggedy grass.
To help you on your way here is my Porridge lady way for taking a summer afternoon tea;
How to make a garden tea the Porridge Lady way
Always use freshly boiled water. Water for tea should only ever be boiled once.
Warm the tea pot before adding the tea leaves.
For afternoon tea always use good quality loose leaf tea and never tea bags.
Use one teaspoon of tea per person and one for the pot.
Fill your kettle with freshly drawn cold water.
Put the kettle on to boil.
When the water is hot, but not boiled, pour a little into your tea pot to warm it. Allow the rest of the water to come to the boil.
Once the pot is warmed discard the water.
Add the tea leaves to the pot.
Pour freshly boiled water over the leaves.
Leave to brew for 3-5 minutes, depending on what type of tea leaves you are using.
Whilst the tea is brewing collect with cups, saucers, milk jug, sugar bowl and strainer. Arrange sandwiches, cakes and pastries onto plates.
Take all into the garden arrange on a table, covering the food with nets to protect from insects.
Bring out the tea and serve freshly brewed.
Sun parasols and afternoon gossip will add to the perfect picnic afternoon tea.
However you take your tea, milk first or last, no sugar, one lump or two, I hope you enjoy it and the summer sun.