“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me” said C.S. Lewis, probably on a rainy day, with nothing to do but drink tea and read books. I’m inclined to agree with him. I’ve used the buckets that a certain coffee house claims to be mugs and I’ve tackled some of the weightier tomes of English (and other) literature and nothing lasts quite as long as you would like it to.
Since I started this blog, I’ve been searching for a museum that would help me learn about the beverage that is the ultimate symbol of British-ness.
Along the way I’ve learned about the role of tea in other cultures at the British Museum, but what about the role tea has played on our culture?
Brew up, sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.
Harnessing the power of the almighty Tweet I asked a couple of Big Tea Brands if they had any advice for the humble tea drinker looking for a place to learn about his favourite tipple.
Tetley refused to comment.
I could have kicked myself. You see, dear reader, I passed this doorway pretty much every day of my life during my time at university. Here it is in all its splendour.
To get to the museum part of the shop you have to walk through the narrow doorway and pass the current incarnations of the products that made the company famous; you have to pass lots and lots of tea. The smell was, as you can imagine, amazing (not quite as good as the Old Operating Theatre, but still, one of the top smells I’ve come across yet!)
Interestingly, the museum is kept in the shop’s cafe. Unfortunately, the emphasis is on the cafe and some of the objects were hidden behind some empty boxes, but perhaps I just visited at a bad time…
A plaque revealed the museum was unveiled in 1956; the 250th anniversary of the shop’s opening and the objects reveal some of the history behind the company. Rather than just present things from the perspective of a faceless corporation, there were extracts from Thomas Twining’s diary on display to give everything a more human feel.
Some aspects of the collection were really thought provoking; we live in a Britain now where tea is the drink of the everyman. Ok, so some of us can be a bit pretentious about the tea we drink or about calling it “English Breakfast” when what we really mean is “Builders’ Tea” but tea has only been the drink of the masses for a comparatively short period of time.
For the historically minded of you out there, tea drinking became more widespread in Britain the 19th century and it was originally brought over by Catherine of Braganza (wife of Charles II) in 1660.
Certain objects really hammered this point home, such as this Tea Caddy from 1796. Ivory, Tortoise Shell and Mother of Pearl. Doesn’t it just ooze luxury?
“The drinking of tea gives the rich an opportunity to show off their fine possessions: cups, teapots ect…” noted the Comte de la Rochefoucauld on a visit to Britian in 1784.
I would like to say that I was able to enjoy a nice cup of tea in the museum/cafe but alas, my peaceful solitude was interrupted by a gaggle of tourists and I was running late for work…