Whatever I write here about tea and tea time in England is going to be heavily disputed by any number of people if they read it, as tea opinions vary widely from one person to the next. It’s very, very amusing – you want to get people animated, ask them if there’s a correct way to make tea. Ha!
But here are some sweeping generalizations gleaned from the various times I did ask that question, and the conversations that followed with people from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, and Americans living here who have their own take on it…
* Real tea is black tea. (Not green, and not “herbal” teas.)
* Tea is served with milk, and you can offer honey or sugar (most people seem to take sugar, not honey.) It’s not served with lemon, unless it’s ice tea and in the american south and also a sweet tea. Which freaks out some brits, this super sweet american ice tea thing. 🙂
* Most everyplace does offer black tea and an herbal option. Many also offer green tea. I’ve not seen an iced tea anywhere, even in August. It’s always hot, year round.
* Herbal tea is NOT tea, it’s an “herbal infusion” and they pronounce the ‘h’ in herb here (they don’t in the US.) That could be peppermint, raspberry leaf, lemon-ginger, berry, etc. It can be served straight or with sugar.
* Everywhere serves tea. You’ll see grocery stores, clothing stores, parks all with cafes to serve hot drinks and baked goodies and sandwiches. IN the grocery store there is a sit down cafe, not a walk up counter like McDonalds in Walmart but a place you sit to eat. (They have entrees at the bigger cafes.) Even the clothing swaps I’ve been to have tea & biscuits offered.
* If someone asks you over for tea (or tea and cake) it could be morning or afternoon and would be tea and maybe a light snack. But if they invite you for tea time that’s afternoon, the traditional thing us Americans think of when we hear tea time. Probably less fancy, unless you are going out to somewhere with the tier tea stands and yummy layers of goodies and finger sandwiches and scones. The big hotels and some restaurants and many cafes in London (or even here in town) will offer a formal (or less ritzy) tea time experience which tourists love. There’s champagne teas and “high tea” and I can’t even begin to explain all those different options.
* Tea is often served with scones or cake, or biscuits. Scones may be with clotted cream and jam, which is delicious. Digestive biscuits are a weird name, and the plain ones I don’t like as they’re strangely not sweet and very crumbly. But dark chocolate digestive biscuits or the caramel ones we were just introduced to by friends – fantastic! Shortbread is also a staple biscuit for tea time, we keep packages of them in our “tea cupboard” for guests. Not kidding – we have a tea cupboard and the kids know to not touch the guest treats without permission.
* Tea bags are very common, though sometimes I see loose leaf offered in cafes. You can find loose leaf tea in the shops, but I’m having a harder time finding loose leaf herbal infusions outside specialty tea shops.
* The charity shops (thrift shops in US lingo) are filled with cute little tea sets, tea cups solo, cream pitchers, etc. They are too much fun – I like the little sets that have a saucer, cup, and a mini tea pot that fits into the top of the cup. You can also find the tiered tea trays.
* Everyone seems to own an electric kettle. They boil water crazy fast so they’re good for tea or meal prep. Seriously – EVERYONE has one. In the stores you see an aisle of electric kettles with matching toasters. It’s cute.
* Toast and tea seems to be a big thing you do at home, but not so much with guests. Once you try their bread you understand why – it’s delicious. Cafes will often have “toast” selections, with things like bananas and nutella or avocados and feta.
* This is a discussion on the Americans in the UK board – how long can you have someone in your home before you’re suppose to offer them a cup of tea? Delivery person you don’t have to, but workers you do offer if they’ll be around an hour or more. Gardener, offer – person fixing boiler, probably offer. When they come back the third time to fix the same boiler issue – don’t have to offer. 😀 (Seriously, this is an on-going discussion in some online groups with varied opinions and funny stories about what happens if you do NOT offer a cup of tea to someone expecting it as the americans try to decipher these cultural norms.)
* English breakfast tea is the most requested one, with milk, sometimes with sugar. We keep a box for guests, and a tiny little milk jug because we use whole milk but that can go funny in the hot tea. You use a lower fat milk for tea. (Did you know there’s also debate about if you put the milk in the cup first, or the tea first? I’m told it depends on whether you brewed an entire pot of tea and are pouring it into the cup, or if you are using a tea bag and brewing just one cup. This is a topic you can find entire blog posts debating!)
* I don’t drink tea. 🙂 (I do love herbal infusions.)