Tea – how often do you give your daily cuppa or six much thought? In celebration of the Jubilee teas being served across the nation, Jane Pikett celebrates Britain’s favourite beverage and serves up some recipes which include its flavoursome leaves
The Queen, by all accounts, holds teatime very dear. At 5pm each day, whether she is resident at Sandringham, Windsor, Balmoral or Buckingham Palace, everything stops and Her Majesty is brought her tea, which she pours herself and enjoys with guests or alone, according to circumstance.
HM is said to favour Earl Grey or Assam loose leaves poured from the pot into a fine china cup. Her former personal chef Darren Grady has said that she likes a ‘cut cake’ – i.e., one she can take a small slice from (she is famously modest in her habits and the cake will reappear each day until it is gone) served with small cakes such as eclairs or fruit tarts from which she may take a tiny nibble. She likes a scone and two types of finger sandwich – smoked salmon, roast beef – and always ‘jam pennies’, which are jam sandwiches cut into little rounds with a pastry cutter. She famously eats modestly, and it is agreed that this daily break is as much about the routine and the opportunity to draw breath as it is whatever is served with her beloved cuppa. See? She’s just like us…
AFTERNOON TEA ETIQUETTE
Loose leaf tea is best, and should be served with a second pot of hot water to dilute as necessary. Allow 1 tsp loose tea per person plus 1 tsp per standard pot.
Use fresh water and warm the pot by pouring boiling water into it, swirling around and pouring away. Pour freshly boiled water on tea, put on the lid, and cover with a tea cosy.
Small-leafed varieties require 3 mins to brew, large leaf tea requires 6 mins. It’s ready when the leaves sink to the bottom of the pot.
Pouring the tea
If your butler doesn’t pour, the person closest to the pot pours for everyone, always using a tea strainer (as per HM).
While some teas are best black, always offer cold milk or lemon, both of which are added after the tea – never before.
Stirring the tea
To avoid splashes, move the spoon back and forth 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, never touching the sides of the cup. When done, place the teaspoon on the saucer at the rear of the teacup.
Holding your teacup
Pinch the handle with your forefinger and thumb – don’t hook your finger through the handle, and don’t stick your pinkie in the air (dear God!).
What’s your brew?
Mint tea – 4tsp tea leaves, 600ml boiling water, 75g caster sugar, 12 mint leaves, 300ml sparkling water or soda water, lemon slices: Place tea leaves in a jug and add 600ml boiling water. Brew for 3-6 mins (depending on tea), strain into a clean jug and add caster sugar and mint leaves. When cool, stir in 300ml sparkling water, ice, 4 lemon slices and serve.
Turmeric tea – 3 tsp ground turmeric, 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger, zest of 1 small orange, honey and lemon slices to serve: Place turmeric, ginger and orange zest in a teapot or jug. Pour over 500ml boiling water and leave to infuse for 5 mins. Strain, add a slice of lemon to each cup and sweeten with honey.
Long Island iced tea – 500ml vanilla vodka, 50ml dry gin, 50ml tequila, 50ml rum, 50ml triple sec, 50ml-100ml fresh lime juice, 500ml cola, 2 limes cut into wedges: Place vodka, gin, tequila, rum and triple sec in a large jug, add lime juice to taste, half fill the jug with ice, stir and serve cold.
Other beverages to serve at teatime…
Elderflower cordial – 900g caster sugar, 600ml boiling water, 30g citric acid, 1 lemon, 10 elderflower heads washed and drained: Place caster sugar in a large jug, pour over boiling water, stir to dissolve. Add citric acid, the zest of 1 lemon, the rest of the lemon sliced, the elderflower heads, cover and leave to stand for 12 hours. Strain through a muslin and store in a sterilised bottle for 1 month before serving.
Barley water – 25g pearl barley, water, zest of 1 lemon, 125ml lemon juice, sugar to taste: Place the pearl barley in a saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil and boil for 2 mins and strain into a clean pan. Add the lemon zest and juice, 1.1 litres water and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Reduce heat, cover and cook gently for 45 mins. Remove from heat and leave covered until cool. Strain, sweeten to taste and serve.
What – and how – to eat at afternoon tea
Use your fingers for sandwich products (they’re called finger sandwiches for a reason). For your scone, break it with your fingers rather than using a knife, and add butter, cream or jam to each section – whether you add the cream or jam first is up to you (which is correct is a big debate, which we’ll not go into). Finally, don’t dunk your biscuits or pastries in your tea.
Finger sandwiches: Never (God in Heaven) serve big stotties or doorsteps for afternoon tea. A nice afternoon tea features modestly filled finger sandwiches made with thinly sliced bread, no crusts and no sloppy filling to ruin your dress. Fillings should be cut into tiny pieces so small bites can be taken. We recommend cucumber (naturally), egg mayo (not sloppy) with cress, ham and mustard, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and Coronation chicken (always).