Lights Camera English!

Take 46: Afternoon Tea

Tea. It’s a British thing. Tea is a British institution.

I love tea. I can hardly explain how important tea is to me. My day doesn’t really begin until I’ve had a nice cuppa. I prefer a mug to a teacup. And I prefer a bowl to a mug. But whatever it’s in, I have a large tea on the go at all times. And I top it up all day long. My motto? Bigger is better: bring me a bucket.

Don’t blame me, blame my country.

But for a nation that’s potty about tea, the variety of tea on offer there is terrible. I only learned this by coming to the Czech Republic.

Here, if your host offers tea, you get a long list of various black, green, white, Japanese, herbal, fruit, and who knows what types of tea to choose from. In England, if you’re offered tea, you get… tea. Tea is generally considered to be black (similar to English Breakfast) and served with milk. People would look very strangely at you if you asked to have your tea without milk. And they’d throw you out in the street if you asked for white tea. White tea? Don’t be ridiculous!

I used to take milk in my tea, like all good Brits. But a short-lived attempt at becoming vegan meant I tried it without milk for a day and couldn’t go back!

But since moving away from England, I have learned that my favourites teas are: English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon. Yes, alright, basically… tea.

But I do like some green teas too, like Green Gunpowder and Sencha. I think Earl Grey is an abomination and a threat to humanity. Disgusting, and seemingly the Czech’s favourite black tea. Otherwise I don’t really consider any other types of tea to be real tea. You can take the girl out of England, but not England out of the girl!

And the other British institution I wouldn’t be without is afternoon tea.  I suspect that England would have shrivelled up in history had it not been for the invention (thank you, Duchess of Bedford in 1840) of afternoon tea.

Henry James once said: There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

And I have to agree. Delicate sandwiches, dainty sweet treats, delicious tea, and a dash of champagne really is the fastest way to feel like a princess.

Lenka and I went for afternoon tea with my mum in Windsor on our trip to England. We sat at a delightful little table outside a quaint English tearoom just a stone’s throw away from Windsor castle where the Queen was in residence. It was the perfect place for Lenka to experience this most British of all British traditions. It doesn’t get more British than that.

Then, when our tea was served, we all noticed that our servers weren’t British at all. Perhaps Russian or Polish. In fact, many of the people we had encountered that day were foreign.

Right in the heart of our British experience were people of all kinds and from all countries. So many accents, faces, cultures, colours, and stories. And they were all gathered to live, breathe, and experience Britain.

And in so doing, they became it.

And I felt a huge wave of pride. Britain is not its tea. It’s its people. And its people are from all over the world. So, yes, the very British experience was made all the more quintessential and traditional by the fact that our servers weren’t from Britain.

And despite the complicated emotions raised in recent years, I’m proud to know that Britain is an accepting, multicultural, progressive place that carves a path to a kinder, more interesting, and far more exciting future for us all.

It must be something in the tea.



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