I have a lot (tea-wise) to thank the British for:
The first thank you would be for a specific British person: the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell. In the early 1800's, there was a breakfast, and a dinner that usually happened past 7:00pm. A new meal called a luncheon was created, but many felt their stomachs grumble before dinner time came around. The luncheon was a light meal, and the Duchess Anna Russell often complained of hunger pains. Not wanting to disturb the servants who were busy preparing her a hearty dinner, she decided she would take tea at around 3:00pm. Originally she only had buttered bread with her tea, but it slowly grew into a more lavish and ritualized event with scones and tasty sandwiches. She enjoyed this tea time so much, she started inviting her friends (one of which was Her Majesty Queen Victoria) to join her. And whatever the Queen did, the upper class did. And whatever the upper class did, everyone else would follow suit. Thank you, dear Duchess, for creating the afternoon high tea.
Next would be a thank you for Her Majesty the Queen, who wakes every morning at 7:30am to have her tea which is brought to her by a chambermaid. It is usually Earl Grey, and is always made with Malvern Water. In fact, she always makes her tea with Malvern water, no matter where she is in the world -- she brings her own if she has to. For most, tea time is around 3:00pm, but I've read that the Queen takes her tea at 5:00pm --and she insists on pouring the tea herself. Most of this information is just hearsay, and unverified. But everyone loves a little mystery! In fact, it caused me to ponder a question: what brand or type of tea does Queen Elizabeth II drink? Well, it isn’t explicitly said, but there are some clues.
She, along with her husband His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and their son His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales, have the ability to assign Royal Warrants.
Ever heard of these? I hadn't either.
Now a warrant, in one of its definitions is: Something that provides assurance or confirmation; a guarantee or proof.
So, if your trade business has a branch in England, sells high quality items, is all around excellent, and has supplied such goods to one of these three royals for a minimum of 5 years, they can bestow this warrant to you. Basically they are telling all others that your business is first class. Once you have this warrant, you can use their logo on your product/stationary/building, boast about it to your competitors, and join the Royal Warrant Holder's Association. The association's website actually has a list of the members, and you can check out what companies the royals are fond of.
I know only one of their preferred tea companies, Twining's! They are so popular with the royals, the Queen gave her warrant in 1955 and Prince Charles gave his own in 1993!
Two other teas were also listed of which I hadn't heard anything about. Forthum & Mason was given a warrant in 1996 by Prince Charles, and the other company, Darvilles of Windsor, was given their warrant in 1969 by the Queen. I haven't heard even a whisper about them, but because royalty likes them, it makes me inclined to want to try them.
Other than their tea, the royals favour certain “fishmongers,” “cheesemongers,” tobasco sauce companies, carriage builders, and Coca Cola.
Thank you, your Majesty, for doing your part to make Twinings popular, so they could make their way to my neck of the woods.
And speaking of Royals, I must say thank you to the WillKat (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.)
For those of you who aren't aware, WillKat is the couple name of Prince William and Kate (Catherine) Middleton – much like TomKat is Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes'. Now because of the imminent royal wedding, there are more British activities happening all over the world. And of course, the one British activity I had to partake in was high tea.
Most of the Fairmont hotels I've noticed are doing special things for the month of April, and I got to have high tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
I've done the high tea at the Empress Hotel when I was younger, but never the Vancouver Hotel. It was an experience all in its own, though it was quite pricy. We chose the Versailles Lavender Earl Grey tea, which is just ridiculous really -- drinking tea with a French name at a high tea celebrating a British couple. Now I usually like lavender in tea, and expected to like this tea as well. Instead I actually found the lavender didn't mix entirely well with the citrus bergamot oil. I suppose it serves me right.
The sandwiches were dainty, but only two were worthwhile. The curry egg sandwiches were good, and I don't typically like curry. I could have eaten more than one, but alas, you only get one. The brie and ham croissant was good, but rich enough that I could only eat one. Good thing you only get one. The other sandwiches, a salmon and a cucumber, I had to make effort to eat. Who comes up with a cucumber and watercress sandwich! I am sure it must have been some practical joke that sadly caught on. At least the scones were light and fluffy, the way that scones should be. Oh yes, do not fool yourselves; anything that resembles a paper weight is not a scone. The other deserts were very, very sweet, and I am glad they put strawberry slices to cut through the sugar. Seriously.
What I loved most was the presentation of everything at and around the table. The seats were Queen Ann chairs (I actually knew that before writing this) and the tablecloth was white,fresh, and actually cloth. The tea was served in the same set that the Empress uses (the one the Queen once drank from and then Empress declared forever more that that was the only set they would serve on) which is a shame really. In the gift lobby the Fairmont has their own tea set commemorating the marriage of WillKat. It is gold patterned, and a lot more appropriate than the slightly garish purple and blue set.
I suppose the gold set might have been too delicate, but it really is a shame. Meanwhile the Versailles tea was served in a silver teapot, with a little handle cozy to keep the heat from burning your hand. The loose leaf tea was settled in a little metal basket at the top of the teapot, and once the first cup was poured, they were no longer in contact with the water – thus the steeping halted. Clever!
The sugar was the coarse raw sugar that doesn’t clump up when ignorant tea guests use their wet teaspoons to scoop it up -- you know who you are. I was worried about the lack of sugar utensils until I saw the sugar; very clever of Fairmont! Even if there were tea utensils, regular sugar would have been subjected to a wet teaspoon eventually. One odd thing was that the only visual clue of the upcoming wedding was a rather stalkeresque shrine. It composed of a pillow with their picture on it, fake pearls, plastic tiaras/crowns, and it all rested upon another Queen Ann chair. This sat next to a fake white tiered wedding cake. Right. Still, I had a memorable time that wouldn’t have been available if Prince William wasn’t getting married. The atmosphere was fantastic, and the service friendly-- even if I was in jeans. There might never be another opportunity to have tea in dedication of Prince William's wedding, so I am very glad I could partake in this wonderful experience.
So thank you WillKat, for getting hitched, and causing the world to partake in enjoyable British activities.
Finally, thank you to the rest of the British commoners (that includes you, Kate Middleton!) for loving black tea. First as a green tea, fresh from the Orient, then as the black tea as I know and love – theirs is a love affair of tea that continues on today. Now there is a plethora of black tea in the market, and many of the best (I think) are from Britain. In fact, I have just recently discovered a new black tea called PG Tips.
The company started in the dirty 1930's and claims to be England’s number one tea. And if that’s the case, this is probably the favourite tea of a certain soon-to-be princess. Or at least the probability is there. Made only of black tea, this is a smooth tea that no other non-flavoured black tea has so far matched – even Murchie’s Afternoon Blend. The PG Tips I have is made of very fine tea leaves in teabags – not the greatest quality. It steeps really quickly, so I have to watch it close to make sure it doesn’t go from smooth to tart. I have seen loose leaf PG Tips, so there are better qualities available. When I want something a little different from Twining’s, this is the tea I reach for. And these days I have been grabbing it more often than not.
Cheers to the happy couple!
Twinings can be bought at most grocers or online.
PG Tips can be found at some grocery stores and specialty imported UK goods stores. I found mine in Cost Cutters!
Fortnum & Mason can be bought online but for a pretty penny. This might be found elsewhere though. I have heard Williams-Sonoma carries it, and I am looking into it at the moment.
Darvilles of Windsor is also available online, and they are also pricy to buy direct from England.
Looks like I'll have to just wait untilI go to England to try these teas!