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Thurrock Local History Society: Everything stops for tea

Everything Stops for Tea

Friday 16 September 2016

Report by Norma Leach

OUR first meeting of the season started with a change of programme from that advertised. At short notice we welcomed back Eve Regelous to give us a talk entitled Everything Stops for Tea. This was a light hearted talk depicting how the tea trade evolved into today’s afternoon tea, a social event accompanied by a biscuit and more.

In the Japanese tea ceremony, monks and local dignitaries’ swirled the tea around three times, sipped and passed the cup to their neighbour. In 1620 tea was a luxury, but by the end of the century it was traded more and Thomas Garraway sold tea as a side line to coffee. It was taken with milk in 1665, milk being added first to save cracking porcelain cups with the hot tea. The art of reading tea leaves started about this time, using dregs in the tea cup.

In 1706 Twinings entered the market. Tea arrived by clipper ships to East India Docks and was first sold in Leadenhall Street and Mincing Lane, smugglers mixing tea with obnoxious substances. At auctions tea was first sold by candle, the procedure over when the candle burnt out. As tea was expensive, special ornate tea caddies with locks were made. Afternoon tea was introduced by the Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s. In 1894 Lyons Corner House started, evolving to be posher than the later ABC.

The 20th century saw a world change with the invention of tea bags. In the USA Thomas Sullivan started with fine silk bags, then muslin. The English hated the idea at first but Tetley introduced them in 1953 and now sell 200 million each day, although loose tea is still preferred by some. Harrods now sells 170 loose and 37 fruit teas.

Country houses introduced afternoon teas, also some private sources such as Betty’s of Harrogate, where orders can now be placed on line. Tea dances proliferated and London tea rooms were born. Sanderson’s of Mayfair now offer a Mad Hatters tea party. Afternoon teas at the Ritz are elegant and sophisticated and are served from 7am-7pm. At the Mayfair Fashion Week there are special cakes shaped like shoes etc.

Tea used to be a medicinal herb, with green tea gaining popularity. Caffeine is a stimulant, perking you up; Mormons and 7th Day Adventists never drink tea. Several countries now have plantations, even in the UK. Cup cakes have made a triumphant return, with tea shops thriving. The British now drink 165 million cups of tea a day.

Our next meeting is at 8.00pm at the Adult Community College, Richmond Road, Grays on Friday 21 October when our speaker will be Hazel Sacco whose illustrated talk is entitled St Catherine’s Church and Coalhouse Fort. Visitors are welcome.


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