Tea: A UK Tradition (By Alessia)

by Alessia Scappaticci

Prior to arriving in the UK, I worked at a tea shop, where I learned to become a serious tea aficionado. And after living here for a few months, I’ve managed to learn a thing or two about the UK’s rules about tea, and the traditions that make afternoon tea so special.

A British Cup of Tea

Although the UK was not the original birthplace of tea, the Brits are notorious for steeping a pretty good cup. If you order tea at any café or restaurant, these are the flavours that will most likely be on the menu:

  • Earl Grey
  • English Breakfast
  • Lemon Ginger
  • Chamomile
  • Peppermint

Although tea is slowly becoming trendier and there are tons of specialty tea shops opening up, the simple flavours still prevail. Sure, if you go to an afternoon tea event, they’ll most likely be serving English Breakfast. But as far as popularity goes, Earl Grey is still at the top. Fun fact: Earl Grey tea is named after the British Prime Minister, Charles Grey. He sat as Prime Minister from 1830-1834 and was originally from the county of Northumberland.

Now, if we’re talking about steeping tea, we need to discuss the issue that divides people more than any political debate or family game night: the, “milk before tea or tea before milk” debate.

I’ve had some experience with differing opinions on this topic, and this seems to be the most common answer:

If you’re making tea in a mug, you steep it, remove the tea bag, and then add milk. If you’re using a teapot, THAT’S where the debate begins. The argument for milk first is that if you’re using fine china and for drinking tea, pouring the tea first will crack the china. But, if you pour milk first, there will be no thermal shock to the china and it won’t crack.

The argument for tea before milk is that the amount of milk you add is based on how much tea you have in your cup; the ratio will just be more balanced that way!

But no matter how you take your tea, it always tastes better in the middle of the afternoon with some treats.

Afternoon Tea

Photo taken by Alessia Scappaticci

Afternoon tea was once an event for the socially elite, but has transformed into a staple of the British experience. The tradition was born in the 1800’s, and is not a feature of many popular restaurants and hotels.

I’ve been told that there’s no specific order to eat the food on the tray, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it makes the most sense to go top to bottom- start with the savoury treats, move to the scones to “cleanse the palette”, and then dive into the sweet stuff.

And if one debate isn’t enough, here’s another: the scone debacle. Is it jam before cream, or cream before jam? Just for the record, mine is jam before cream.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get here too, then you can contact an advisor, and keep up with Across the Pond on social media. You can also follow along on my UK journey on Instagram at @alessiaacrossthepond!