Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

What is it about a cup of tea that makes all our worries subside?

Who can forget the wonderful scene in the film Sense and Sensibility (screenplay written by Emma Thompson) when Willoughby rejects Marianne and she runs upstairs in floods of tears followed by her mother and younger sister. Her older sister Elinor, played by Emma Thompson, is left holding a cup of tea, listening to the wails of distraught family members behind closed doors. Elinor sits on the stairs looks at the closed doors around her and drinks her cup of tea. It is her only comfort. How well Jane Austen knew the female sex.

A cup of tea is quintessentially English. The British Standards Institute take their tea very seriously. They wrote a 5,000 word essay on how to make a proper cup of tea and won an award for it. This is the abridged version:

Use 2g of tea - plus or minus 2% - for every 100ml of water. ?Tea flavour and appearance will be affected by the hardness of the water used. ?Fill the pot to within 4-6mm of the brim with freshly boiling water. ?After the lid has been placed on top, leave the pot to brew for precisely six minutes. ?Add milk at a ratio of 1.75ml of milk for every 100ml of tea. ?Lift the pot with the lid in place, then "pour tea through the infused leaves into the cup". ?Pour in tea on top of milk to prevent scalding the milk. If you pour your milk in last, the best results are with a liquor temperature of 65-80C.

This report actually won the Ig Nobel Literary Award - an American spoof on the prizes for scientific and artistic excellence. The prize is given out for something, which should never be reproduced.

Nevertheless, tea remains a centrepiece in many people’s lives. Tea makes us sit, stop and relax in a brief pause during our busy days. For years we have associated drinking a cup of tea with healing moments in our lives. When a friend has had bad news, we instinctively put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. It’s what we do. Tea and a biscuit, the perfect antidote to life.

Tea drinking has become of such great importance that even Lonely Planet now lists the 10 top places to drink a cup of tea in its 1000 Ultimate Experiences Guide. The number one place to drink tea is at The Ritz in London.

It is the act of drinking tea that is an undeniable comfort. It makes everything seem better or maybe just not quite so bleak.

Muriel Barbery gives us perhaps the most delightful examination of the healing properties of tea in the charming novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

“The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license granted to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and the poor: the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, the autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And with each swallow, time is sublimed.”

May you partake of the tea ritual in 2013, so that “with each swallow, time is sublimed.”

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