‘Two for tea’, ‘a nice cup of tea’, ‘I’ll put the kettle on’, ‘fancy a cuppa’. All are familiar phrases – an established part of our cultural, social and often personal histories.
The cup that cheers has been with us for centuries now. In its early days here, tea helped define class and customs – mainly because it was a luxury item and only available to a minority.
That minority was, at the beginning, found at the court of Charles II where tea was made popular by Charles’ new wife, Catherine of Braganza, a princess of Portugal whose dowry included a chest of tea.
Diarist Samuel Pepys tried tea in 1660, an experience that was soon to stand for everything that was à la mode and desirable in polite society.
Thirst for tea across the country led to smuggling and tea being brought into Britain illegally.
Taxes on tea were slashed to try to counteract this and, by the 18th century, there was even a moral backlash against the taking of tea.
Tea it would seem is greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s a magical brew, always comforting, a panacea for all ills and something to make when it may feel as though nothing can be done. While tea can be made there is hope and a way through.
Author CS Lewis, who, among many other things, wrote the Narnia books for children, said: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
In books and film, the ritual of taking tea has been woven into tales of war, situation comedy and romance.
How would Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard have met without the charming setting of the Milford Junction refreshment room in Brief Encounter?
Today, the drinking of tea knows no social boundaries. It seems it’s always time for tea, with afternoon tea and high tea enjoying a resurgence of popularity.
The power of tea cannot be underestimated when it is offered with a comforting word, a listening ear and an unspoken permission to relax, share, confide and, sometimes, even begin the process of healing.
Every day at St John’s Hospice and the St John’s Information and Support Centre, tea is brewed and the alchemy of hot water, tea leaves and the kindness of friends and sometimes strangers will make a difference to people’s lives.
On Tuesday, June 24, from 2pm to 4pm enjoy a special cup of tea – or coffee – with the added delight of sandwiches and cake in the glorious setting of The Mount Pleasant Hotel on the Great North Road. The hotel is kindly supporting the Hospice Development Appeal with this event. Tickets are available from the St John’s Information and Support Centre.
Last, but not least, I have a confession to make. I don’t drink tea.
* Mel Hewitt, Community Fundraiser, St John’s Hospice