Proper Tea is Theft!

17 March 2010

Cottia Thorowgood investigates the dark side of Cambridge’s afternoon assignations…

Whether it be high, herbal or birthday, ‘tea’ is one of those great versatile terms incorporating all you want at circa 4pm. The afternoon tea, so beautifully illustrated by Mrs Beeton, serves as mid-afternoon refreshment and will typically involve the hot beverage; tea with an assortment of light bites, such as cucumber sandwiches, biscuits and cakes. The reality of such an occasion, however, can be deceptively obscured by such niceties.

Already in Cambridge, there have been rumours of a Women’s Institute arising under the pretence of baking scones; the Pitt Club may have their champagne receptions, but this is a mere feather to a sword when up against the tea party. For where better to found the next coup, journal, or Ent then over that sweet non-alcoholic nectar; lapsang, and a crumpet?

It is the crossover of the domestic and the public that make tea such perfect cover for grassroots action. Just as romances blossomed for Austen’s socially repressed courters, riddles given to girls called Alice, taxes overthrown in Boston, and alliances broached with Mussolini, the afternoon tea is a tool which fills those niches that no other meal will.

But back to our regular, white rabbit-free 4pm. In this age, choosing tea – by mug or meal, over coffee and American muffin (don’t deny the patriotic nature of drinking tea) stands as a personal revolution from ‘the system’.

Antoinette got it, Beeton got it, Earl and Lady Grey got it; tea is one of life’s overlooked musts, yet never be fooled by the innocence of that mid-meal period.