Issue 4: Tea Time

What is "tea time"? What is "afternoon tea"? What is a "tea cosy"? How do you make the perfect cup of tea?

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Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everyone - wherever you might be listening from in the world. Welcome to the British Culture Club. The podcast, online magazine, and the videos helping you explore British culture.

In this episode, you will learn more about what the British mean by "tea time".

I'll be speaking to Anne, a grandmother, about tea time through three generations. Rosanna will be talking to Mary from the Royal Crescent Hotel about afternoon tea.

Listen on to find out more...

Before we start, this episode is accompanied by our free online magazine. And that covers things like "what is a tea cozy?", "what is a cuppa?", "how to make the perfect cup of tea". So if you'd like to read that alongside the podcast, please head over to our homepage:

Tea from China started to be imported into the UK in the 17th century. It was a luxury drink that could only be afforded by a few. It was in the mid 19th century that "afternoon tea " was started, when people would sit down in the late afternoon to drink tea and have a light snack.

Afternoon tea is one thing. But "tea time" can also mean an early evening meal. I'm going to speak to Anne about her experience of tea time.

Anne: I'm a 78 year old mother of three boys and seven grandchildren. Tea time for us was, when my boys were small, age ranging from toddlers through to probably middle school, about 10, something like that, was an early light meal, which was nutritious.

We fed them on boiled eggs with soldiers, fish fingers, beans on toast, spaghetti, crumpets, cheese on toast, tomatoes and fruits and nuts. Not all in one go of course. Plus a drink, maybe a milkshake or milk or fruit juice, and then followed by cake and biscuits. Or they had what we called a plate full of everything.

This was not so much for my sons, but for my grandchildren, because they used to come in at different times, odd times. And that would be a much simpler, fruits, nuts, dried fruit, cold meats cheese, maybe a sandwich, which everybody enjoyed and was put together in two minutes.

It was, for. my children, a prelude to an hour's bath time and stories and songs before they went to bed. So it was always a meal that was served probably about five o'clock in the afternoon, something like that. Because my husband, coming down from London, he and I would eat supper dinner much later, more like half seven, eight o'clock in the evening when hopefully they would be sound asleep.

That's what tea meant for us. It was always hopefully a happy time. It was time for spreading a bit of news, maybe a joke or two, maybe a tear or two, but it was a good time.

Dan: And, and what do you remember of tea time when you were a child?

Anne: Well, now I was a war baby, born in 42. It was rationed, all food was rationed. There certainly weren't things like sweets and cakes and things like that readily available, but we lived in the country and therefore there were always things like eggs and fruit and vegetables, not so much the fruit, but vegetables available to us, but always in-season things.

We didn't have imports like we do nowadays. It was much simpler fare, but it was okay. I've still got all my teeth, so it can't have been that bad. It was always about that time, about five o'clock, before getting ready for bed and doing the evening things.

Dan: And what have you experienced of tea time in different parts of Britain?

Anne: Well, of course, if you go down to the West Country, you will always get the most magnificent, absolutely fantastic Cream Tea. Ooh, scones and cream and strawberries and jam, was the main part of it. I think you've just added to that whatever you wanted, but frankly that was quite enough for me.

Scottish High Tea. We spent a week in Scotland, so we got used to had a whole week of Scottish High Tea, which was not dissimilar to what I gave our boys - a lightly cooked meal.

Dan: That's given us good perspective of tea through different generations. Thank you very much.

That was Anne talking about tea time, and she mentions "cream tea", which is often part of an "afternoon tea".

We're going to listen to Rosanna, who is speaking to Mary from the Royal Crescent Hotel, which serves afternoon tea.

Rosanna: Hi Mary. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mary: Hi, it's a pleasure.

Rosanna: We are talking today to Mary who's a marketing manager at the beautiful Royal Crescent Hotel here in Bath. And we're going to be talking to Mary a little bit about afternoon tea that's served at the hotel, and all the lovely details about tea and the traditions here in Britain.

So, first things first, why do you think afternoon tea is so popular in the UK?

Mary: Well, afternoon tea is a very sociable meal. It's a bit of a source of "just because" meal. I think, for that reason, people really love the whole idea of it, and it feels like a really special treat. It makes kind of a great way to meet people, celebrate with friends or family.

So it's nice for special occasions, a little bit of a different way to celebrate, instead of just going down the pub or going for a meal, it's something just a little bit extra, and we Brits do love our tea and cake as well.

Rosanna: We do. Definitely. I've got my cup of tea with me at the moment. So, what do you serve at the Royal Crescent Hotel during afternoon tea?

Could you just explain all, everything that's included? All the deliciousness.

Mary: Yeah. Sure. So the RCH afternoon tea is served on three tiers. So on the first tier you've got your elegant finger sandwiches and they all have a different filling. On your second tier you have a freshly baked scone and you also have a Bath Bun, which is a traditional bun with a cube of sugar baked into the middle.

And on the top tier, you have the pièce de résistance, which is a plate of beautiful pastries and they're hand decorated. So sweets and pastries. So they almost look too good to eat. And then there's also an option, if you have more of a savoury pallet, we have a savoury option if you prefer to have that instead of the cakes and sweets.

So there's lots of options to choose from at the Royal Crescent. We serve it with tea or coffee, but we also have the option of champagne if you want to do something extra special.

Rosanna: Lovely. And can I ask you a very crucial question? Do you put the clotted cream on first or the jam on first?

Mary: I feel like it always sort of divides opinion, doesn't it? But, me personally, I find it easier to put the cream on first and the jam. It just feels a bit more sort of efficient by the way it spreads. So. Right.

Rosanna: So you mentioned earlier, you know, people love afternoon tea because it's such a special celebration, but what kind of occasions do you see people coming into enjoy afternoon tea at the hotel?

Mary: Yeah, so it's a very versatile meal really? Cause it's like, sort of in-between meal, you can kind of adapt it to anything, but we've had birthday celebrations, we've had graduations, that's quite a popular one every year. People come to celebrate with their parents and the family. We have hen dos, that's quite a popular one as well 'cause it seems a bit more laid back and relaxed and elegant than, than, you know, some activities. And we also have the option for weddings, which is quite a popular option actually.

Cause I know a lot of people prefer to have the whole wedding breakfast and a three-course meal, but other people just want something still really special and refined but more relaxed. So it can sort of fit to any occasion really, and we see quite a lot of variety with that.

Rosanna: Oh lovely. I remember going to the Royal Crescent Hotel last year, just before Christmas, and they had a lovely Christmas themed afternoon tea. So that was really nice, and we didn't have a particular occasion. We just went along. It was lovely, a really nice way to make an afternoon special. So yeah.

Mary: Oh yeah. That sounds lovely. Yeah. No, you don't even need an occasion, do you? Sometimes it's just nice to treat yourself and, yeah, our Christmas afternoon tea is really lovely. We do little santa's tummies with a belt on that are very sweet.

Rosanna: Delicious. So, how do you make the perfect cup of tea?

Mary: Ooh, another tense subject, but obviously here in the UK, everyone has their own way of making it. And then, I think wars have probably been started over less. but we sort of let our guests pour their own for that exact reason. And so everyone has their own different way. For me, my perfect cup of tea would just be a nice classic peppermint tea, well stewed.

Rosanna: Oh, lovely. Excellent. And do you serve many types of tea at the Royal Crescent? You mentioned that you could have either tea or champagne or even coffee, but classically, I guess a cup of tea is what most people would have with it.

Mary: Yes. Yes. So tea's a really popular request and we have over 13 different types from a brand called Ronnefeldt , and there's something to suit every pallet, probably the most popular ones that are asked for are English Breakfast, and also Earl Grey, but another one, which is really, really lovely, it's called Granny's Garden.

So that has a sort of an infusion of rhubarb, vanilla, apple, hibiscus, and rosehip. So really beautiful flavours. And, that one sort of captures people's imagination I think when they see it on the menu. And that, that goes down quite well as well.

Rosanna: That sounds really nice. Do you put milk with that? Or..

Mary: I mean, guests can if they wish, most people tend to take it without milk.

Rosanna: Okay. Lovely. Very nice. And finally, three words that you can think of that summarize the feelings surrounding afternoon tea or afternoon tea in general, three words that pop into your mind.

Decadence, traditional, and joyful. Especially joyful, I think it's such a lovely way to catch up with friends and it's a really nice way to mark an occasion.

Well, thank you so much for talking to us, Mary.

Mary: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Rosanna: I encourage anyone that's visiting Bath to visit the Royal Crescent Hotel because it's in a beautiful setting in the world-famous Royal Crescent. And, yeah, you would spend a lovely afternoon there. Indeed.

Mary: Thank you Rosanna.

Dan: Well, I don't know about you, but all of those descriptions of delicious food are making me hungry. I think it must be tea time.

That's all for this episode.

If you've enjoyed it, please write a review on your podcast platform. If you'd like to read more about tea time, then there's the online magazine, which is free of charge, on our homepage

You can also find the link to our new Facebook group, where you can discuss these topics and ask us questions.

Goodbye for now

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