Appreciation of Fine Tea in England


Selena N. B. H./Via Flickr

After I returned home from a 10-day tour of England in 1989, my very first student tour that I organized on my own called “England Trek,” one of my students commented that my husband went into every pub and I went into every tea shop. In defense of my husband, I think this student was slightly exaggerating, but her comment certainly rang true for me. I am seriously addicted to English tea, the kind you serve with milk and sugar. I drink a cup or two at breakfast and a cup when I come home from school. I also carry a thermos of tea to drink during my planning period. My curious (nosy) students often ask me about the thermos on my desk and they are astounded that I would be drinking hot tea in a state where everyone drinks “sweet tea” (iced tea).

There are many famous quotations about tea. My favorite one comes from Noel Coward, an English playwright and composer: “Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t have tea?” I was introduced to English tea as an exchange student the same year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne. I still use the commemorative tea tins I purchased in 1977. Now it is the year of her Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary as Queen and I am still enjoying what the English poet William Cowper described as “the cups, that cheer but not inebriate.”

Perhaps the main reason why most of my EF tours have been to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is the fact that I know I can get a decent cup of tea in these countries. Much to the amazement of my students, I always return home with countless boxes of tea. It’s still hard to find decent tea where I live so I will often buy the brands I like on-line. Travel with students can be stressful at times so a cup of tea can work wonders in those situations. I enjoy drinking my tea while I wait for my students to show up at breakfast and I enjoy staying at the hotels with good tea (and coffee) making facilities. In many books, films, and television programs set in this part of the world, someone is always putting the kettle on and serving tea to offer comfort, provide a distraction, or just being hospitable.

My husband is also a heavy tea drinker. In fact, he introduced me to the joys of Darjeeling and Lapsang Souchong tea when we started dating (that sounds terribly old-fashioned now). In 2004, we spent a week in London after Christmas and one of our favorite places was the Bramah Tea & Coffee Museum on Southwark Street. Mr. Bramah died in 2008 and his museum is currently closed to the public. It was a wonderful place to learn about the 400-year history of tea and coffee. Mr. Bramah had an impressive collection of teapots from around the world and his museum also had a very nice tea room and shop. We enjoyed meeting Mr. Bramah and laughed when he made this comment to us, “The British drink lots of tea, but they don’t know much about it.”

I just returned home from an 11-day tour to England and Scotland with my students and of course, I bought enough tea to last until I travel to the Republic of Ireland this summer. As a veteran of EF tours, I knew I would not be able to enjoy an afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel in London, not the sort of activity you would see on a student travel itinerary. You need to dress in the proper attire and you need to make a reservation several months in advance. One day, perhaps after I retire from teaching, I’m going to enjoy the traditional afternoon tea at the Ritz.

The cost of the traditional afternoon tea, which includes an array of fancy sandwiches, pastries, and cakes, not to mention unlimited cups of tea, will set me back at least 42 pounds, but I think the experience will be worth it.

Students might be interested in knowing that Irving Berlin wrote a song in 1921 called “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which comes from a slang expression meaning to dress very fashionably. The hotel connection is clear since the Ritz Hotels in Paris and London are both fancy and luxurious establishments. I was introduced to the song in Mel Brooks’ 1974 film, Young Frankenstein, when Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) performed a duet with his monster (Peter Boyle).

If you are traveling in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, take the time to introduce your students to a cup of tea, but be sure you pour the milk in first. Believe it or not, how to make a perfect cup of tea is still the subject of debate.

Readers, what national beverages (or foods) have you been introduced to in your travels?

Flickr photo via Adactio

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(Editor’s note: If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)

Gail I.

Gail is a former longtime EF Group Leader, who was also a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours.

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