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English Afternoon Tea  by Mike Mills

(Please note - this article was written a number of years ago. Things have changed -  it is slightly outdated!)

  • Is it just a cup of tea? 

  • What's all the fuss about?


As everyone knows, people in Britain drink an awful lot of tea. Tea with milk, that is,

popularly called a cuppa, or a cup of char, or in Cockney rhyming slang a Rosie Lee (cup of tea).


Nearly all British people drink tea, and people in the north of England and Scotland can easily consume over a dozen cups a day


Whenever housewives visit each other's houses almost the first words uttered are

I'll put the kettle on! And every cuppa always becomes at least two or three cupfuls, usually accompanied by scones or biscuits. In fact, it is estimated that about 200.000.000 cups of tea are drunk every day in the United Kingdom - a staggering amount: an average of over 5 cups for every adult in Britain.

Many people still read the tea-leaves - that is, after finishing a cup of tea they swill the tea-leaves round in the cup and read the future of the person concerned. This, of course, can only be done if the person drinks loose tea: that is, tea which is not inside a tea-bag. Hardly any British people, when drinking loose tea, use a tea-strainer - only foreigners do that! (Tea-strainer: the device that stops tea-leaves going into the cup).


These days, the traditional Afternoon Tea is found mainly in the quaint tearooms found the length and breadth of Britain, and usually consists of a pot of tea, milk and sugar, two scones or toasted teacakes, a small pot of clotted cream, and "home made" strawberry jam. 

  • This famous tradition originated when the East India Company began shipping tea into Britain in the late 17th century (one of the ships which brought it over can still be visited in Greenwich, London

  • - the Cutty Sark).


In those days only the wealthy could

afford to buy tea.

  • They would invite guests to their houses and the tea-drinking ceremony would begin.

  • The host would bring out the finest porcelain called China, which was extremely fragile and intricately painted, and the beverage would be served, along with delicate thin sandwiches of cucumber, cress and ham, plus cakes, scones, clotted cream, and jam. Yummie!



  • kettle = a utensil or container, nowadays nearly always electric, for boiling water. Just about every household in Britain has a kettle.

  • to stagger = to walk unsteadily, as if drunk. For example, if a restaurant bill is staggering it means that you're so shocked when you see it that you stagger!

  • the wealthy = rich people. In English, adjectives preceded by the  become nouns meaning all the people in that group, without needing the word people. Here are some examples: the wealthy (grouping ALL the wealthy people) - the rich (grouping all the rich people) - the idle rich - the blind - the lonely - the poor - the deaf - the homeless - the unemployed - the stupid

  • take their toll on = have an effect on

  • quaint = nice, old fashioned or picturesque

  • breadth = width.   Broad - breadth.   Wide - width.   Long - length

  • scone = a small, round soft cake, often also made with cheese and / or currants.

  • teacake = it looks like a hamburger bun, but it is sweet, with currants.

  • clotted cream = extra thick cream that looks like soft ice-cream

  • tea-cosy = a cover, usually made of wool, that keeps a teapot warm.

How to make the Perfect English Cuppa:

1. The traditional way

  • Use loose tea leaves.

  • Boil water.

  • Pour a little into your teapot to warm it. This is essential.

  • When the teapot is warm, empty the water out.

  • Put in one teaspoonful of tea for every person, and one extra "for the pot".

  • Pour boiling water into the teapot - it must be absolutely boiling!

  • Put the lid on the teapot and cover it with a tea-cosy to keep the pot of tea warm.

  • Wait about 3 minutes for the tea to brew.

  • Use delicate china cups and saucers.

  • Pour in a little milk.

  • Pour in the tea, "backing" the pot to make sure the tea comes brewed and strong from the pot.

  • Add sugar if desired.  Enjoy!

2. The modern way

  • place a teabag into a cup

  • pour boiling water on it

  • Add milk after a minute or two.

  • Add sugar if desired

  • Enjoy! (but maybe a little less than the traditional method!)   

Footnote written in 2018:

nowadays, sadly - largely due to the international habit of drinking coffee - the British Afternoon Tea tradition seems to be slowly dying out. However, traditional Tea-Rooms can still be found in nearly all towns and villages.

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