Tea for you and me

Join me on my epic quest to find the best tea ever


Tea with Mrs Beeton

If it's got a teacup on it I'm generally attracted to it.

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Campaign for Domestic Happiness‘ by Mrs Isabella Beeton. I admit I was swayed in my book choice by the picture of a teacup on the front cover, but the book is mainly about how to manage your household followed by some recipes. I’ve learnt that I need to be an early riser to ensure my house is ‘orderly and well-managed’. If I ‘remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics… will surely become sluggards’ (page 10 of the eBook edition). I always knew my inability to sleep late was going to be good for something.

The section on tea is intriguing, mostly because it comes under the heading of ‘Recipes for Beverages’ (page 83). How many cookbooks nowadays come with instructions on how to make tea? It’s just taken for granted that we can. Mrs Beeton thought there was ‘very little art in making good tea; if the water is boiling, and there is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good’ (page 84).

Interestingly, she recommends putting the tea into the teapot, adding a small amount of boiling water and brewing for five to ten minutes – then topping up the pot with water. She stands by the ‘old-fashioned plan of allowing a teaspoonful [of tea] to each person, and one over’ (page 84).

I’m not sure about the idea of brewing a small amount of tea first and topping it up with hot water, but I might try it the next time I make a pot of tea and see what it’s like.

There’s not as much about tea in here as I’d like, considering the cover image, but the section on managing a household had me entertained for a good while. Well worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading others in the ‘Great Food‘ series.

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18-20 The Crescent, Spalding, Lincolnshire, PE11 1AF     01775 769231

One of the two fountains inside Bookmark, complete with swimming fish.

Bookmark is an award-winning book shop in Spalding that is much much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Not only that, but it has two working fountains inside it, one of which has fish in. Real swimming happy little fish, merrily going about their business inside a book shop. I took a photo for your perusing pleasure, but it’s come out a bit fuzzy, my apologies.

The coffee shop is tucked away in a corner of the shop but is still quite large. We got there just before 12 and it filled up quickly with people coming for lunch. There are tables and chairs or some old fashioned yet comfortable green leather sofas. There was a good selection of cake on display and the menu had a page just for the different types of tea and coffee. R had green tea and a handmade sausage roll, JM had a cafe latte with a slice of coconut and lemon cake, and I went for a pot of Earl Grey with a slice of white chocolate and cherry tart.

Tea, cafe latte and the white chocolate and cherry tart at Bookmark.

They were all very good, with the tea loose leaf and in a tea pot that gave me 3 and a half cups, despite looking not that big. Various people around us were eating lunch and that looked yummy as well. My tart didn’t really taste like white chocolate, but it was light and fresh and not too sickly sweet so I was happy.

Teapot? Yes.
Leaf tea? Yes.
Milk jug? Yes.
Price? £2.25 for a pot of speciality tea.
Cake? Yes and tarts and quiches.
Go again? Yes, this place has books, tea and a fountain with fish in – of course I’d go again!

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For all the tea in China by Sarah Rose

For all the tea in China: espionage, empire and the secret formula for the world’s favourite drink by Sarah Rose. Published by Hutchinson, 2009, ISBN 978-0091797065

The cover of 'For all the tea in China'This is a departure from my normal postings as it’s a book but I just found it so interesting that I thought I’d stick it on here. And it’s about tea, after all. I did most of the reading whilst drinking tea, if that helps.

This book tells the story of a botanist fortune hunter who was sent to China by the East India Company to find the secret of tea and take it to India where the tea could be grown by the Company and sold for more profit. This in itself was an interesting story, but what I found most interesting was the explanation for why we drink tea differently here to those in China. The addition of milk, sugar and a cup with a handle are all British inventions. Sarah Rose concludes that tea helped industrialize Britain.

She adds that drinking tea helped prevent cholera as it is made with boiling water. Sugar was a large commodity at that time and the empire was generating huge amounts of it; adding it to tea gave them a market for the excess sugar. It also added calories to the poor diet of the working class who had previously got calories from ale and beer. This was fine for manual labour but being under the influence was not a good plan in the mills where the shuttle looms could kill if you weren’t careful. Fermented drinks killed bugs but they also took up half of the British grain production, grain that was badly needed to feed a growing nation. Making tea the national drink gave health benefits (no more pregnant women drinking alcohol), saved grain and adding milk also gave them protein.

High quality fresh tea should not be made with boiling water as it ruins the flavour of the leaf, however the tea that came out of China to begin with was low quality and old as it took so long to get here, so boiling water was fine. And when you make tea with boiling water you can’t hold the cup and so you need a handle.

This is just a highlight of some of the nuggets of info that come out of this book. If you like tea (and presumably you do, or why would you be reading this blog?) go get it from your local library or bookshop or friend and read it. Perhaps even read it with a cup of tea.