Why tea rooms just aren't our cup of tea any more...

CEF Level B2

Nothing could be more British than a nice cup of tea in a tea room..... could it?

I pondered this as I contemplated the scenic Warwick tea rooms , within spitting distance of the historic castle. Outside the street was cobbled and the cottages built in the traditional black and white style of the Warwickshire countryside, inside was all beams and bone china... and the chatter was all in Chinese.
Why were there only tourists in the tea room? Surely the good people of Warwick enjoy a cuppa as much as everyone else? Certainly no native Brits were to be seen- and in most towns teas rooms just don't exist any more either, going the same way as Steak Houses and Internet cafes- out of our everyday lives. This isn't really surprising, as no-one under the age of 70 would be seen dead in a tea room...

When Catherine of Braganza from Portugal introduced tea drinking to the court of Charles 11 in the 17th Century, few could have imagined the pain and the pleasure it would bring over the ensuing centuries. At first a drink enjoyed by the aristocracy, tea was prohibitively expensive and a luxury to be indulged in on special occasions. Wealthy men met to discuss business in London Coffee Houses, where tea became a popular offering, despite the fact that it was brewed only in the morning and re-heated to be served. The reason it was all brewed in one go was that the commodity was heavily taxed in its liquid state. Soon the coffee houses began to sell tea leaves as well, so the men could take it home for their wives.

Whilst men drank tea in the Coffee Houses, their wives started to brew up at home, and invited their friends around for tea parties, which became a fashionable part of the social scene for the well-to-do. As well as being an opportunity for women to chat and network, society ladies also had the satisfaction of showing off their wealth and knowing the working classes couldn't afford to do the same.

By the 18th Century everyone wanted to get in on the act, and demand for tea rose across the social spectrum. Like anything where demand outstrips supply, soon smugglers were bringing in tea from the continent to avoid the heavy taxes and tea became part of everyday life. So much tea was smuggled, in that in 1785 the tax was slashed and Britain's love affair with the brew  really took off. Arguments ensued as to the wisdom of letting 'persons of inferior rank and mean abilities' ( Hanway 1785) drink the infusion, with debates as to whether it could be 'injurious to health'. Interestingly, the upper classes had no problem with drinking it themselves, they just didn't want the masses to join in!

Debates raged on into the 19th Century when the church concluded tea was generally a good thing, mostly because it was better than gin, and that tea rooms and coffee houses were more acceptable venues for the lower orders than pubs. Tea was often served after church services and generally boosted morale in times of trouble.

And so to the Warwick tea rooms- why no locals? Simply because the coffee house is back big-time. Tea rooms may be an endangered species, but Britain is back in love with the coffee house, turning the clock back full-circle to the 17th Century. Our forefathers would recognise the offerings of coffee and tea, the place to chat, the meeting house for the business discussion, the convivial atmosphere.  However, they might be perturbed by the women and the wi-fi....
So if you're looking for tea-room on your next visit to the UK, don't bother- just head to a Costa, Cafe Nero or a Starbucks cafe instead ... and don't forget to order a nice cup of tea.


Vocabulary-
to ponder- to contemplate- to think about
a cuppa- colloquial British English- a cup of tea
ensuing- following
to indulge in- to enjoy as a treat
to brew up- make tea, as in ' let's have a brew'
smugglers- people who bring goods into a country illegally to avoid tax
the masses- the common people
convivial- sociable, lively
to perturb- to disturb, to trouble
forefathers-ancestors


 

Fifteen very large men chase an egg

LEVEL CEF C1

The 'backs' are actually at the front. The 'forwards' are actually at the back. The ball isn't a ball- it's an egg. When they need to decide which team will get the egg-shaped thing, they sometimes throw it in or kick it, but often the players form a giant spider of people known as a 'scrum'. It's not very effective but the sight is most amusing and there's always the tantalising possibility a fight will break out. Yes, the rugby season is in full swing!

 Our household is rugby mad and we have just about recovered from the excitement of watching  the recent six nations cup. This involved a lot of hours in front of the TV, cups of tea, crisps and shouting, but best of all it involved a trip to Twickenham in London to see England's finest against the Welsh. 

The noise was deafening, the atmosphere electric and the stadium was packed to the rafters with over 80,000 enthusiastic supporters for the ancient rivalry between the nations. As I took a drink of water from my bottle I could actually feel the vibrations in the water from the crowd roaring on the players. And what an eclectic crowd it was- I noticed with interest that this was two worlds colliding, happily in a good-natured way.

Behind us several of the Welsh supporters in red rugby shirts exchanged friendly banter with the English supporters before belting out their national anthem. Not surprisingly their anthem is in Welsh, a language so incomprehensible that half or their own population can't speak it. It sounds great though, even if you have to just hum it! These lads were well-oiled and in fine voice, large men with thick necks and hands like spades, true men of toil. Maybe their fathers and grandfathers worked in the coal mines, I fondly imagined?

To the front and side of us was a different story- the English gentleman was on a day out. Tweed jacket, pink or blue stripy shirt, relaxed cords and no tie. Leather brogues obligatory though- only a 'chav' would wear trainers! One of them was sheltering his eyes from the sun with an ipad. The bankers from the City office had  taken the train back into town from their country retreats for the game. What did they have in common with the Welsh supporters? Only that they were equally well-oiled and keen on rugby. Apart from that? Nothing. Their lives were probably as different as their shirts. Who says the class divide doesn't exist in Britain any more?


Vocabulary-

scrum- I can't even begin to describe it, you'll have to google a picture!

'packed to the rafters' -very full

tanatlising-teasing possibility

rivalry-competition

eclectic- composing of different parts, mixed

banter- friendly chat, often teasing ( a British art form!)

belting out - to shout or sing loudly

brogues- leather shoes

chav- a common person ( derogatory)

country retreat- a house in the country for week-ends

well-oiled   had a few drinks, slightly drunk in a good way


 

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