"Tea continues serenely to dominate our culture, its rituals pervading
every area of our social life. The teapot is an icon for all classes..." -
In the early twentieth century, the appearance of tea could be found
everywhere. In 1901, each person was drinking approximately six pounds
of tea every year, and Britain was consuming 60% of the world tea supply.
Everything seemed to revolve around the drink and the meal. For
example, one could open the pages of almost any novel and magazine and
find numerous scenes taking place at tea parties. In J.M. Barrie's play Peter
Pan, one could watch Peter Pan offer Wendy, John, and Michael the choice
of an adventure now, or tea. Even the BBC had to carefully consider when
to broadcast certain television programs to fit around tea time. The
People's Food, 1938, said, "The hour of the teatime meal is even more
important to wireless broadcasters than breakfast or lunch."
Those of Edwardian Britain drank tea, prepared by their servants at regular
intervals throughout the day. However, as the years went by and the
presence of servants in household disappeared, "teasmades" began to
appear, which would sit beside the bed, and when the timer would go off, it
would boil water that had been set ready with tea leaves. Thus, one could
drink his or her tea in private before attending breakfast, to consume even
more tea or coffee!
Afternoon tea for the middle and upper classes was a formal event
involving three-tiered stands, and servants supplying plates of
sandwiches, bread and butter, scones, toast, and pastries. The event
would usually take place in a suitable location as well. Whenever the
Queen Mary would give an afternoon tea party at Buckingham Palace, she
would wear long gloves and have it in the green drawing room, where
there were flowers and the "loveliest little cakes, sandwiches, sweets,
fruits, and hot scones are laid out invitingly." (Home Notes, 1930s)
Tea continued to increase in popularity with the opening of tea houses.
Many of the tea houses in grand hotels were large airy palm courts,
lounges, or conservatories where tea was served every day to the
accompaniment of trios, string quartets, or piano music. On weekends
and bank holidays, country lanes and seaside resorts were filled with 'day
trippers' who would frequently visit these local tea gardens during the
Later, the arrival of the tango from Argentina provoked an obsessive
interest, and let to the craze for tango tea dances. The Waldorf Hotel
became one of themain venues for tea dances. German incendiary bombs
fell on the hotel in 1939, ending the dances, but they were reintroduced in
1982. The Waldorf's Edwardian Palm Court is still a venue for its trademark
tea dances every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
The passion for tea dances continued into the early 1920s, when they
gradually lost their appeal due to cocktail hour.
However, in the 1950's, legislation concerning wages and working
conditions made running tea shops much more expensive. The serving of
afternoon tea in grand hotels in large towns became nothing more than a
pot of teabag tea, a carelessly-made sandwich, and a piece of pre-packed
cake. On the contrary, onecould still find clotted cream, homemade cakes
and pots of looseleaf tea in porcelain pots in certain places, like Cornwall
In the early 1980s, several new ventures arose. For example, The Tea
House opened in London's Covent Garden and an old dairy in Finchley,
north London was restored to its original charm in order to serve tea on
Sundays afternoons. The Waldorf held its tea dances and the Ritz started
to hold weekend dances.
In order to take tea, you had to know where to go. In London, The Ritz,
Lanesborough, and Four Seasons are some perfect for afternoon teas. In
New York, The Pierre, Peninsula, Carlyle and dozens more. Tearooms
served excellent tea and teatime pastries.
Around this time, people around the world became fascinated by the
concept of afternoon tea and decided to try themselves. The United
Kingdom Tea Council also decided to find quality tearooms in order to
invite them to join the Tea Council Guide of Teashops. The Guild's
buidebook is published each year with a page for each venue. Its
purpose is to help visitors find the best places for tea!
In the 1990's tea was threatened by the boom of coffee drinking.
However, both drinks remain widely popular today.
By Melissa Goldman