The art of tea: connoisseur Rachel Glauser on the perfect cup and where it all began

“What’s the matter, my dear, don’t you care for tea?” — The Mad Hatter

We certainly do! And just in time to celebrate Mom, we’re holding an English Tea Party. Join Rachel Glauser, who came by her love of tea through an immersion in all things British, on the day before Mother’s Day for a tutorial and celebration of this delightful tradition. On the menu: tea sandwiches, scones, Victorian sponge cake and, of course, the perfect cup of tea. You’ll learn how to make them all, and then feast on each delectable treat.

Our lovely tea lover

Our lovely tea expert

We invited Rachel, who lived in East London for four years, to be our guest blogger this week to take us through a brief history of this classic British pastime and share her tips for brewing a perfectly lovely cup.

Back in the 17th century…

The origin of what we think of as the quintessential English tea party is believed to date back to the reign of Charles the II. Charles’ father, King Charles the I of England, was executed at the end of the English Civil War. Although the Parliament of Scotland proclaimed Charles the II as the rightful king of England, Oliver Cromwell defeated him in battle and Charles had to spend nine years in exile in Europe.

While living at The Hague in the Netherlands, Charles was exposed to the custom of drinking tea. Upon Cromwell’s death, he was brought back to England to reign as the rightful king.

A few years after this, he married Infanta Catherine de Braganza of Portugal who was also accustomed to drinking tea, a popular drink in her country. With the marriage came political alliances with Portugal, opening up trading routes for England, thus allowing them the opportunity to import tea.

Despite the great expense of tea, it became a popular drink in England, eventually replacing ale as the preferred beverage. Although tea was a regular drink in England, it wasn’t until the early- to mid-1800s that the drinking of afternoon tea became popular. It is believed that Anna Dutchess of Bedford began the practice of having tea in the afternoon with little sandwiches because she felt hungry during the long gap between lunch and dinner. She would invite her friends over to join her. This idea quickly spread and morphed into the English tea party.

How the English make the perfect cup of tea

1. Choose the right tea bag.

Pick out a good-quality black tea. It might be labeled Breakfast Tea, British Tea, or just Black Tea. Some good brands are PG Tips, Tetley or Twinings. tea2

2. Boil the kettle. It is important not to heat up the water in the microwave because you can’t be sure of the temperature.

3. Put the tea bag in the mug and pour the hot water over it (don’t pour the water in the mug and then put the tea bag in at a later time, as many restaurants do when serving tea, because the boiled water will have cooled down by then).

If making the tea in a teapot, warm the teapot with hot water first. Add one tea bag per person into the pot. Pour in the boiling water and put the lid on the pot.

4. Let the tea steep to bring out the flavor. For a mug, let it stand for about a minute. For a pot, let it stand for about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to leave the tea bag in too long or it will become bitter.

5. Add milk (and sugar if you like it a bit sweeter). You will know you’ve added the right amount of milk when the tea is a dark orange-brown color.

6. Enjoy a nice cup of tea!

Join us in our farmhouse from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. May 7 for our English tea party. Registration is $25 (2 for $40). Information: 215-672-3140.

About Rachel: Art is my passion. I make it. I teach it. I sell it.  Ceramics, jewelry, mosaics, stoneware…If it sparks joy and curiosity, I dive in. And oh, yeah, I drink a minimum of five cups of tea a day — my British husband taught me how to make and enjoy a “proper” cup — and I love throwing a good tea party.