Hooray Henry! Its Afternoon Tea Week. A decidedly English habit with its own ritual, Afternoon Tea truly puts the gentility into polite society. At any rate, tea, along with luxury commodities like sugar and porcelain was formerly the preserve of the well-heeled and for the curious modern reader, promises a chequered history of questionable morals. Moving through time, the tea flows more freely, becoming, even, the revered tonic of the working classes and an answer to unruly gin-induced behaviour. Nowadays, you might choose to sup on any number of teas at a traditional haunt, uttering the quaint virtues of a Cornish or Devonshire. Or, you may swear by one of those new fangled urban brews whilst the vinyl spins. Whatever your tipple, spare a thought for the history of your tea wares and practises.
Token tea in hand, I’ve rounded up the social titbits that may be of interest to you to-date – whether it be something that I’ve written on highly coveted porcelain, social graces or the practise of taking tea itself:
William Hogarth, ‘Tate in High Life’, England, 1746, paper print, V&A, Museum no. F118:129
The Appetite for Chinese Porcelain in Britain in the 18th Century: See here for how fine china and your grandmother’s best broke out onto the Georgian social scene. In this article, we’ll trace the emergence of luxury consumption and the tea-drinking cult of the wealthiest members of Georgian society who were eager to show off the height of fashion in tea wares.
Augustus II & The Japanese Palace: Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland took a fancy to the finer things in life – namely, good quality porcelain. In outfitting palaces around Dresden, Augustus went crazy for exotic imports, speculating in one of the largest collections of porcelain that Europe had ever seen. Take a flight of fancy by reading about how he indulged in collecting here.
Edward George Handel Lucas (1861-1936), Silent Advocates of Temperance, United Kingdom, 1891.
Faith, Hope, Charity – A Victorian Teacup and Saucer: Take a spin through the Victorian drive for temperance, as advocated by the tea-wielding greater good! Find out how, by the 19th century, virtuous tea ran circles around the previous century’s ‘Devil’s Drink’ gin and slightly more savoury ‘Beer Street’. Discover the hidden messages of more affordable tea wares for the middle and working class home and how tea was promoted as a way to keep society in order here.
I hope that you enjoy this brief foray into the world of tea and its traditions…
Pour the tea, Vicar.