There is nothing more glorious than June – roses, cricket, lawn tennis, the evening glass of chilled white wine on the terrace……….. You can smell and taste the nostalgia, the idyll only disturbed by the sound of hay fever snuffling and sneezing, and a summer storm! Oh well it must be time for tea.
The Chinese may have been drinking tea since the third millennium BC, but here afternoon tea did not become a fashionable social event until the mid 19th century. Whilst upper and middle class ladies adorned in tea gowns, hat and gloves, developed the rituals of afternoon tea, the working class remained firmly in the pub.
The days of tea parties on the lawn in the perfect English garden are part of the myth perpetuated by television costume dramas. In reality they were enjoyed by a privileged minority and belonged to a society which was changed forever by the first world war. Afternoon tea is now reserved for high days and holidays, the preserve of genteel tea rooms and posh hotels. It is also part of the ritual of garden visiting as even the smallest “Yellow Book” garden will usually offer tea and cakes and the WI tea tent remains a quintessential part of the village fête.
The world and afternoon tea have changed and many of us now use the tea bag, with or without a tea-pot. Fortunately home baking is enjoying a revival and plain and fancy cakes are one again on the menu. The difference between fine leaf tea and the bag is probably equivalent to the difference between supermarket plonk and a good estate wine. There is room for both, as a fine tea like vintage wine needs time to be appreciated and enjoyed. Whether you drink Iris Orchid Phoenix Oolong, Darjeeling Bannockburn Supreme or supermarket own brand value range, take a little time to enjoy your tea and admire the garden.
So are you a tea bag dipper of leaf tea and strainer, imbiber?