From The Tea Chapter of Felicity & Barbara Pym, Part 2:
"It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of tea in these novels, if not England. Notwithstanding its precipitous symbolism in the Revolutionary War (still referred to in some parts of England as the ‘American Rebellion’), where else would tea be considered a good enough reason to officially interrupt a ball game? Not just a cup of tea ― but Tea. The real thing: Biscuits (cookies), cakes, scones, sandwiches, tarts, etc. It’s almost worth enduring an interminable cricket game, just to enjoy the tea.
‘The British population buys about 500 million pounds of tea a year’, according to a note I once made on an old recipe card for Dundee cake. Odd, the notes we make. I can’t imagine having wanted to know that. However, it may be useful if only to emphasise how great the consumption of tea is. And how much greater it must be now ― that recipe must be ten or fifteen years old.
There are many kinds of tea, each with its attendant status ― unblended teas like Assam and Darjeeling from India; Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) teas, which are smooth and fragrant; and Keemun, or English Breakfast tea, a black tea from China. The more popular teas are blended teas, like the Irish or English or Scottish or Welsh mixtures of Sri Lankan, Kenyan and Chinese teas. I order various teas, blended and unblended from various estates around the world, through a company called Upton Tea Imports, one of the most courteous and efficient companies with which it has been my pleasure to interact. Entering their website is entering an enchanted tea-world. I think it would both charm and educate you and I urge you to browse their pages for a taste of the civility that was once the hallmark of the finest purveyors of commodities so aptly illustrated in Barbara Pym’s novels. However, this is a huge subject and one that I suggest we take up privately if you are interested, once we have examined its significance in Barbara Pym’s novels. Upton Tea Imports can be found at www.uptontea.com
It may interest you to know that although tea has been a part of English life since 1662 when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, from Portugal, where tea was already a fashionable drink, the ‘tea table’ per se came into its own only in the eighteenth century, when the Duchess of Bedford turned it into a feminine soirée. At that time, and in that place, the gap between lunch and dinner had been growing larger, so that too many hours of ennui stretched between one culinary gathering and another.
Breakfast, for the upper classes, was really a man’s meal. Few women of the gentry or aristocracy appeared in public in the morning. Therefore, the pleasures of the tea table at four were very welcome, and thus began a ritual that endures to this day."
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance