It is a culture here in England, a lost thing to American sensibilities. After all, tea was a historical dispute between the states and the monarchy. The former dumped it in the ocean while the latter snobbed it up with “pinky out.” Ignoring the harsh history involving the beverage, tea does seem to play a much larger social role on the other side of the Atlantic. Here in Oxford (i.e. all of England) one can find several cafes and pubs offering tea. This is commonplace. Even in America, there are many cafes and restaurants that offer tea and coffee. And yet, Americans do tea wrong. Maybe we find the process of teatime tea-dious. I’m American, and I love tea. It is a comfort drink, and many times reminds me of my time at home in Hershey. I assure you, reader, many Americans love tea. I have only met a few people who say they do not enjoy tea. They are to be shunned. As Americans, our love for tea is limited though. There is a mountain too high and a river too deep separating us from the full joy that is tea.
That joy is called cream tea.
During my first Sunday in Oxford, a group of four or five ended up at a café called the Vaults and Garden. It is a small café located in Oxford’s Old Congregation House of 1320. For many of us, we had no idea what cream tea meant. One of my friends thought it might be something similar to a frappe. I insisted it was plain tea with milk. It is neither of those silly ideas. Cream tea consists of a tea of your choice (an entire pot of tea in some cases), and a scone or two. To accompany the scones, cafes give a side of jam and a side of clotted cream as spreads. The combination of the two is heavenly. The cream tea is not the only reason why the British do tea correctly. It is the idea of Afternoon Tea that rights all wrongs between America and Britain. At least, it does for me. Afternoon tea starts around midday. It is a time to enjoy conversation and a cuppa. More so, it is a break from the bustle of life. Coming from one of the busiest cities in the world, I found the slower speed of Oxford, and the calming atmosphere of teatime a pleasant and welcomed change. It is this tradition I feel I might miss most about England.
I must not be too hasty with my generalizations. This facetious claim of mine stands on wobbly pillars. Teatime can be found anywhere in the world. It is no longer a British tradition. However, England does have consistency when it comes to setting aside a period of time for the sole enjoyment of tea and conversation. The location of the tea doesn’t matter. Tea, in its nature, is a drink that calms and comforts wherever it is consumed. No, location comes second. Tea is wonderful whether it is a cup in the hands of an American boy watching Newsies, or it is in a porcelain teacup held by a hand with pinky extended.
It seems I steeped this discussion too long. I close with this: drink tea unabashedly.
Keep on keeping on,