Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

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English Tea

Princess of Wales Tea Lounge, Primrose Hill, London, England

January 15, 2013

"Would you care to sit with me for a cup of English Tea?" ... Sir Paul McCartney, English Tea 
This essay, English Tea, is the third in a group of five written in London, January 2013:
  1. Turned Tables
  2. Don't Regulate The Tate
  3. English Tea
  4. Blameless
  5. London "I": The Memorandum
in that order.

This group of five written in London, January 2013 is the sequel to Clear For Takeoff.

This essay, English Tea, is also the twelfth essay in an open group with titles borrowed from Songs:

From 101 Zen Stories: A Cup Of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), received a university professor who came to him to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured it into his visitor's cup until it was full, and then he kept on pouring.

The professor watched it overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's full. No more will go in!" he cried out.

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?".
If you're a visitor from England, and you're ordering a cup of tea in a restaurant in the United States, you'd face an unexpected blizzard of choices. Do you want herb tea? Chamomile? Jasmine? Peppermint? Hibiscus? Would you like Earl Grey? Twinings, maybe? or Lipton's? What about a Tazo  tea? Or a South African Rooibos  tea, perhaps? And that small selection is only for starters. It's dizzying and confusing. "Can't I just have a ... cup ... of ... tea  ... please?".

Here's the secret: what you have to ask for in the Unites States, is a cup of "English breakfast  tea". English breakfast tea is what the English traditionally drink when they drink tea. Unlike in the United States, in England a cup of tea almost always  means English breakfast tea. English tea time is four o'clock in the afternoon. But in England, tea (that is, English breakfast  tea) can be sipped at any time during the day, and especially with breakfast - hence its name.

And then there's also what's known as "high  tea", a special, uniquely English celebration of tea which, along with all its accompanying delicacies, is almost a meal in itself. My daughter Alexandra and I wanted to experience this age old tradition, which accounts for how we found ourselves sitting in the Princess of Wales, a quaint tea lounge on London's famed tony  celebrity enclave of Primrose Hill, not knowing quite what to expect, on a brisk, clear winter afternoon.

A polite waiter in a floor length apron soon arrived, setting in front of each of us a teapot of tea, a jug of hot water (to refill the teapot later to brew more tea), a jug of milk, and a bowl of sugar - brown lump sugar (not white granular sugar), something I'd not seen served in a while. Wanting to perform this traditional ceremony correctly, I asked him if it's proper to add milk to the tea, something never done in the United States. He said yes, it's proper to add milk to the tea (and most people do, he told me), or to drink it "black" ie without milk. "It's also proper, if you like" he said, "to add a slice of lemon to the tea" (something I noticed he hadn't provided). "But" he continued, pointing to the lump sugar "whether or not you put sugar in the tea, is controversial.".

I liked the way he said "controversial" referring to putting sugar in the tea. It made it sound very important, very significant. The English are very earnest  about their tea.

He then piled the table with silver serving stands replete the obligatory cucumber sandwiches (with which Oscar Wilde of "The Importance of Being Earnest" notoriety, would have been suitably impressed), egg salad sandwiches, and smoked salmon sandwiches. Only the smoked salmon sandwiches were made with brown bread. The waiter also brought the staple of high tea: scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. As if that wasn't enough, he also brought us slices of treacle tart and, served in half size shot glasses, a creamy lemon custard with raspberry sauce. And as if that  wasn't enough, he also brought us chocolate and peanut butter brownies. The overall display, on the trays and on the stands, was so stylishly picturesque, it seemed like a pity to disturb it.

But disturb it we inevitably and eventually did, first covering scones with strawberry jam, then adding a dollop of clotted cream on top. It's a sublime taste. We poured our tea, added milk in the English fashion, and controversially  added two lumps of brown sugar. It was delicious - dare I say reassuring  and comforting?  Robust? Decidedly un-plebeian? It's quite easy to see why the English take their breakfast tea seriously - and regularly, throughout the day.

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