~ A Selection of Cakes ~
The Victoria Sponge Cake is the quintessential English cake, conjuring up images of old England and afternoon tea. If its was good enough for Queen Victoria then it is good enough for me. :)
Scones are a small rich quick bread, similar to a rich biscuit, usually spilt and served with fruity jam and cream as part of a traditional british cream tea. How about a slice or two of Grandma's Coffee & Walnut Cake. There is also delicious Banana Bread and a lovely Cherry & Almond Loaf. Or if you like a little zing, then try the Lemon Drizzle Cake. Or how about a little Fairy cake, designed just for one. :)
~ A VARIETY OF TEA ~
All tea comes from the evergreen tea bush Camellia Sinensis. The thousands of different varieties of teas available in the world only vary by the region it was grown, the time of year picked, and the processing method. Major tea-producing countries include China, India, Africa and Japan. From the black teas including the popular Darjeeling and Ceylon and green teas such as jasmine or blended teas such as Earl Grey.
~ There are Four main varieties of Tea ~
Black Tea ~ is the most widespread type as people all over the world make their tea by dipping tea bags of black tea into their cups. Black tea has become seen as the traditional British beverage. Black tea is oxidized for the longest period of time which produces the darkest of the tea.
White Tea ~ is the purest and least processed of all teas. This loose leaf tea has very little caffeine and brews a light colour and flavour.
Green Tea ~ is steamed very soon after picking to stop the oxidation process. It is the beverage of choice in Asia. Some loose green teas are scented with flowers or mixed with fruits to create scented or flavoured teas.
Oolong Tea ~ also known as wu long tea, is full-bodied with a flavourful fragrance and sweet aroma. Most people commonly recognize oolong tea as the Chinese tea served in Chinese restaurants.
Herbal Teas ~ Herbal tea does not contain any leaves from the Camellia plant family, so it is sometimes referred to as a tisane. Herbal teas can be broken into three categories: rooibos teas, mate teas, and herbal infusions. Herbal infusions consist of pure herbs, flowers, and fruits. They can be delicious hot or iced.
"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea."
~ Bernard-Paul Heroux ~
"Thank God for tea!
What would the world do without tea?
How did it exist?
I am glad I was not born before tea.”
~ Sydney Smith ~
~ BREWING A POT OF TEA ~
Brewing tea is a matter of taste. Different varieties of tea require different brewing techniques for the best drinking experience. Brewing the perfect cup of tea using loose leaves is simple and straight forward.
It is important to preheat the pot in which the tea will be steeped. If hot water is poured into a cold pot, the temperature of the water will drop too quickly and the full flavour of the tea will not be extracted.
Use freshly-drawn water. This ensures that the water has plenty of oxygen in it.
As the water in the kettle is heated, pour a little into your teapot to warm it. Swirl around and discard. Place the appropriate quantity of loose tea leaves in the teapot – as a guide, use 'one per person and one for the pot' Once the the kettle has reached a ‘rolling boil’, pour the correct quantity of hot water over the loose tea leaves, stir, and pop the lid on the teapot, and leave to infuse for at least five minutes.
Pour the tea into the teacups using a strainer to catch loose leaves. Lemon and cold, whole milk can also be added to tea.
Milk may be added before or after the tea, depending on personal preference. My preference is to add the milk after the tea, so as to regulate the amount.
The teapot can be kept warm using a 'tea cozy'. Something my Grandma always did. :)
~ STORING TEA ~
Tea quickly picks up moisture and becomes tainted. To preserve its freshness as long as possible, tea should be stored in a cool and dry place. An airtight tin is perfect.
~ TEA TIME IN BRITAIN ~
Tea time in Britain is more than just drinking tea. Teatime is an actual meal and depending on which location you live in, the meal could be anything from a scone, to a few sandwiches and cakes, to a full dinner. When I was growing up the three meals of the day in our home were known as breakfast, dinner and tea.
There are three kinds of teatime in Britain
~ Afternoon Tea, Cream Tea and High Tea. ~
Afternoon Tea is traditionally served between four and five in the afternoon - hence the name. Many people believe that this tradition was first started in 1841 by Anna Maria Stanhope, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. At that time, and in fact right up until the early decades of the 20th century, luncheon was served at twelve noon but dinner was not served until 8.00 or even 9.00pm in the evenings. This left quite a gap between mealtimes, so its said that the duchess began to request a cup of tea and light snacks to be served around 5 pm, and then she began to invite guests to join her.
A light lunch in the early afternoon was just the thing to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner, and so the custom of afternoon tea was born, it spread like wildfire among the upper classes. Ladies across the land who were 'at home' would dress elaborately in their finest dresses and visit each other's houses to partake of afternoon tea.
Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a teapot and served in teacups with milk and sugar. This is accompanied by sandwiches, customarily cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste and ham (crusts removed, naturally!) scones were served with clotted cream and jam, and other cakes and pastries were served too, such as Battenberg, fruit cake and course a Victoria sponge cake. :)
Cream Tea is similar to the afternoon tea, but without the sandwiches. A cream tea consists of freshly baked scones, some clotted cream, butter and strawberry jam served with a large pot of tea.
High Tea - The British working population did not have Afternoon Tea. They had a meal about midday, and a meal after work, between five and seven o'clock. This meal was called 'high tea' or just 'tea'. The term comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, instead of the smaller lounge table. High tea is a full meal served with tea, including meat, bread, side dishes and dessert.
"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."
~ Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady ~
~ TIME FOR TEA ~
TEAROOMS ~ Saw a revival in popularity in the 1880s, both in England and America. They were places for refreshments where hot meals, cakes, bread and pastries were available. They continued to be popular beyond the end of the 19th century. Tea was served in the late afternoon to Victorian ladies and gentlemen who could meet for for tea, conversation and gossip in a socially acceptable way.
ENGLISH TEA GARDENS ~ Taken from the Dutch tavern garden teas, the English enhanced the idea of Tea Gardens. On private grounds, ladies and gentlemen took their tea outdoors and were entertained by orchestras, flowered walkways, bowling greens, concerts, games and other lavish elements. In public tea gardens, women were allowed to mix freely for the first time without social criticism, and British society and the middle classes also gathered freely, thus cutting across lines of class and birth.
ICED TEA ~ History reveals that the discovery of "iced tea" was aptly attributed to an Englishman, and plantation owner, named Richard Blechynden. It happened during the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Trader Richard Blechynden was exhibiting at the fair, where he intended to give away selected samples hot tea to visitors. But, when the scorching heat of the day caused disinterest in hot tea drinks, he hit on the idea of putting ice into the brew and served it ‘iced’.
TEABAGS ~ Another tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan of New York developed the concept of ‘bagged tea’ in 1908. As a tea merchant, he carefully wrapped each bag in white silk bags and sent them to his customers for consideration at restaurants. He formulated the idea to help keep the kitchens tidy and uncomplicated with brewing big batches of tea. His idea was wonderfully, a success.
TEACUPS ~ did not always have handles. Chinese tea bowls influenced the first European teacups. At first, the English made cups without handles in the traditional Chinese style. Not until the mid 1750’s was a handle added to prevent the ladies from burning their fingers. This improvement was copied from a posset cup, used for hot beverages - hot drink made of milk with wine or ale and flavoured with spices. The saucer was once a small dish for sauce. In Victorian days, tea drinkers poured their tea into saucers to cool before sipping, this was perfectly acceptable.
TEA & THE WAR ~ The importance of tea to the British way of life was officially recognised during the First World War when the government took over its importation to ensure that its vital, morale-boosting qualities remained available to everyone at a reasonable price. While tea rationing was not implemented during World War I, it was enforced during World War II. Tea rationing in Britain didn’t start until July 1940, the average tea ration was 2oz per adult per week. Back then the tea was sold loose, the modern tea bag wasn’t invented until 1944. While the American population took to tea bags with enthusiasm, the British were naturally wary of such a radical change in their tea-making methods. The loose tea was actually more beneficial as you could easily re-use the tea leafs over and over again. The material shortages of World War Two also stalled the mass adoption of tea bags in Britain, and it was not until the 1950s that they really took off. The popular Tea Shops in England were ‘off ration’ and anyone who could afford it could purchase tea for consumption on the premises. It wasn’t until 1952 that tea rationing ended. Finally the nation could get back to brewing up!
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.
~ Gladstone, 1865 ~
~ THE HISTORY OF TEA ~
A cup of tea is very much a British tradition. It was not until the mid 17th century that the beverage first appeared in England. Legend has it that tea was first discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, 5,000 years ago. The scholar and herbalist was visiting a distant region of his realm when he and his court stopped to rest along the roadside. His servants began to boil water,( required for hygienic purposes) for all to drink. When some dried leaves from a nearby bush was said to have fallen into the boiling water. When the emperor tasted it he found it to have an interesting, refreshing flavour. So they made more. According to the legend, this is the beginning of tea drinking.
Tea arrived in Europe via Dutch and Portuguese sailors at the beginning of the 17th century. They had trade relations with China and brought the tea to Britain and Holland at the outset, where it was sold at auctions and became very popular among the aristocracy and the wealthy. The tea trade was a significant factor in establishing connections between east and west. In China, tea leaves were used as a substitute for coins.
In England, heavy taxes on the tea increased the prices further and as a result, the smuggling of tea became a booming industry. By the end of the 18th Century, taxes were reduced and tea became even more popular. It began to replace ale at the English breakfast table.
Tea was an extremely expensive household commodity, and it was kept locked in chests, which later became known as tea caddies. The lady of the house kept the key to the tea caddy and prepared and served tea for only very important visitors.
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) the first China tea of the season, landing in London, was particularly costly. A great rivalry occurred between the shippers of the day, who were frantically searching for the fastest sailing ship in order to import the tea. Soon a ship called “the clipper” appeared, designed by the Americans. This ship cut the return journey time by half. Traders sprinted across the seas by these famously fast tea clippers to bring back their precious cargos. Only the freshest tea and the first tea arriving back in Britain could command a premium price.
One famous clipper, the 'Cutty Sark' was commissioned in 1868 and launched in 1869 by London ship owner John Willis. It was built for speed and to directly challenge the Thermopylae, who was regarded as the fastest tea clipper of the age. The Cutty Sark made her name transporting tea and other cargoes from China but it was as early as 1877 that she carried her last tea cargo. The introduction of steam to power ships made clippers redundant. It only made the tea run eight times, but for its era it was a remarkable ship. The Cutty Sark is the only clipper to survive. She is now in dry dock and on exhibition at Greenwich.
* A 'cutty sark' is a short Scottish chemise or shirt. It was worn by a witch in pursuit of Tam O'Shanter on horse-back in Robert Burn's poem. The ship's figurehead is a representation of this witch.
"Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage."
~ Catherine Douzel ~
~ READING TEA LEAVES ~
Tea leaf reading is also known as Tasseography. “Tassa” is the Arabic word for cup.
This mysterious art most likely had its origins in the Middle East and the Orient. As soon as it was brought to Europe, it became very popular. It was also very popular in Victorian times in England. People would read tea leaves in parlors, gathering rooms, and just about anywhere they could drink tea. There was also people called Romanies or Gypsies, who are a group of nomads who spread around the world from India. Gypsies were very good at reading tea leaves and predicting the future in them.
"Matrons, who toss the cup and see
The grounds of fate in grounds of tea…
The bitter dregs of fortune’s cup to drain."
~ Alexander Pope
Modern tea reading is still shrouded in folklore. The leaf patterns are read from the bottomof the cup (the past), up to the rim (the near future). The signs seen are purely at the interpretation of the reader, as so many symbols are similar to each other.
MEANING OF SYMBOLS
ACORN - Continued health - improved health.
ANCHOR - Lucky symbol. Success in business or in love. If blurred or indistinct just the reverse.
CAKES - New friends, social success, invitations.
HEART - A lover. If close to a ring, marriage to the present lover. If indistinct, the lover is fickle.
HEAVENLY BODIES - (Sun, Moon, Star)— Good luck—great happiness and success.
OWL - Indicates sickness or poverty. Warning against starting a new venture.
ELEPHANT - Good Luck - good health - happiness.
BIRDS - Good Luck. If flying, good news from the direction it comes. If at rest a fortunate journey.
~ TEA FOLKLORE ~
* The most common old wives' tale is having bubbles on the top of the tea - this is said to mean money is coming.
* A small piece of tea stalk floating on the top of tea means a stranger shall be calling that day.
* Two people should never pour from the same pot, this means either a falling out, or if two women pour, one of them will have a baby within a year.
* Never put the milk into the cup before the sugar. It is bad luck!
* Two teaspoons accidentally placed together on a saucer, points to a wedding or a pregnancy.
~ THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY ~
The first tea seeds were brought to Japan by the returning Buddhist priest Yeisei, who had seen the value of tea in China in enhancing religious mediation. As a result, he is known as the "Father of Tea" in Japan.
The sacred Japanese tea ceremony, called "Chanoyu", (The word Chanoyu, or Cha-no-yu, means hot water for tea) evolved in the late 15th century under the influence of the Japanese philosophies of Zen Buddhism.
The ceremony places supreme importance on respecting the act of making and drinking tea. Zen Buddhism honours the essential elements of Japanese philosophy ~ harmony, purity, respect, and tranquility, during Chanoyu.
The tea ceremony was so important that special tea rooms were built in backyard gardens. The décor for the ceremony is simple and rustic and includes hanging scrolls (kakemonos) that are appropriate for the season or feature well known sayings. Inside the teahouse, the Teishu (Host) makes the tea using powdered green tea called 'matcha'. The tea is mixed with boiled water using a bamboo whisk and served in small bowls.
The tea ceremony is practiced only by tea masters who have studied the craft for years. More important to the ceremony than the tea master are the guests, as the point of the ceremony is to enjoy the tea in the company of others. Usually not more than four guests (no more, as this could disturb the tranquil atmosphere) are served tea and sometimes small meals or sweets over a period of two to four hours. The host does most of the work, but the guests partake in part of the ceremony as well, particularly by turning the bowl after it is placed before them.
The tools used in tea ceremonies are essential parts of the ritual and are cleaned and stored with reverence. The most common tools included in the tea ceremony include ~
Chawan (Tea bowl)~ Usually thrown by hand, these clay bowls are the implement in which the host whisks the tea and from which the guests drink the tea. The Chawan come in a number of sizes and colours, but they are usually simple in design.
Chashaku (Tea scoop) ~ The tea scoop is usually made from bamboo, wood, or ivory and is used to scoop the tea powder from a caddy into the tea bowl.
Chasen (Tea whisk) ~ Perhaps the most iconic tool of the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea whisk is most often made of bamboo. It usually has a sturdy handle, a cone-shaped center, and thin fibers of the bamboo in a petal-like fashion around the center cone.
It can take years of practice to master the art of Japanese tea ceremonies. In Japan, many choose to take classes or join clubs at dedicated tea schools. Students learn the common hosting duties such as how to properly enter and exit the tea room, when to bow, making the tea correctly, proper placement and cleaning of the utensils and equipment, as well as appropriate guest behaviour like handling and drinking from the tea bowl.