Sunday, 22 September 2013

Jane Austen did not approve of taking tea with milk

Yesterday's post kind of went off the rails and ended up in Chinese grammar. It was not really connected to Jane Austen in the first place, and I should say that not all my posts will be. They are just sort of interesting things I have learned in my research and my geek life. But still,what has Chinese to do with the English Regency? .... how about - TEA!
But wait, you might say, although, like so many things, tea came from China, their tea is very different from English tea. They drink mostly green tea, or oolong, etc. We drink mostly black teas. This is true, but what you may not know is that in Jane Austen's time, their tea was much more Chinese. They drank green tea, or oolong, or a blend of the two. There was probably some black tea around, but it was not as ubiquitous as in the Victorian era and beyond. 
Jane Austen wrote in a letter of a new acquaintance, "There are two traits in her character which are pleasing -- namely, she admires Camilla, and drinks no cream in her tea." Now, I have said in my heading, that she didn't approve of putting milk in tea, not cream, but these were interchangeable in this context. As my great-grandmother would tell you, "if it comes in a cream pitcher, we call it cream." It was not at all cooth to imply that what was in the cream pitcher was in fact milk. I like to put actual cream in my tea, and people are often horrified at this and think it quite unprecedented. I always tell them, people in the past always put cream in their tea when they could afford to. For further, direct evidence of this, I must again direct you to Elizabeth Gaskell and her delightful book, Cranford. In it, the ladies go for tea at a posh lady's house and she serves tea with a very small pitcher of cream and a larger pitcher of milk. The pitcher of cream, she gives to the dog, with the excuse that he has very delicate taste. The ladies are all rather put out that their tastes are valued less than that of her dog.
In any case, you might share Jane Austen's opinion on the matter when you consider that it was green tea that they were drinking. I can't imagine taking that with milk or cream. Where we part ways is with respect to sugar. The Georgians put ghastly amounts of sugar in their tea. They drank it like green tea syrup. If you ever chance to see a Georgian tea set, you will notice the size of the sugar bowl is enormous relative to what we expect in modern times. You may also notice that there is an additional bowl, which would be a slop bow, where you tossed the last drops of tea and leaves from your cup before re-filling. And the sugar spoon might be in the shape of a shell. Some were actually shells, though I don't remember learning why. Anyone know?  

(Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, the novel, comes out October 31, 2013. Until then, I am posting things I learned in the course of my research, and of being a geek. Sharing always welcome. Follow me on twitter @FolliesPast)

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