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More Tea Please, We're Sherlocked



TEA




A short, tongue-in-cheek guide to the British national obsession: TEA! In answer to several questions I have received over the last three weeks about Sherlock and this beverage.


I explore:



  • why everyone in Sherlock is obsessed with tea.

  • "tea" is more than just a drink: it's also the word used for the evening meal or a certain type of afternoon meal.

  • the different ways of drinking tea in the UK

  • how to write a good Sherlock fanfiction featuring this glorious brew.


But our journey into the amazing world of tea does not actually start with tea, it starts in the 17th century with a bean from the new world because no one loved coffee like the British.



No one Loved Coffee Like the British…







Some people will be shocked to know that the British fell in love with coffee before they even considered the current passionate love affair with tea.


Coffees had been a traditional drink in parts of Arabia for centuries but thanks to the ruthlessly sharp business sense of the East India Company and with some help from the Dutch, coffee started to flood the streets of Britain in the middle of the 16th century.


Coffee houses which served sprung up like snow drops – by 1675 there were more than 3000 coffeehouses in the country. Learned men would use these establishments to discuss politics and philosophy and it was not long before the authorities started to fear the subversive power of coffee. Some hot (coffee) houses of political debate were closed, and their patrons incarcerated, though the love affair with coffee could never be quashed.


But very soon the world slowly started to change…


During the 17th century the armadas of Spain and Portugal were slowly diminishing in power and Britain was beginning to exert herself as a world naval power. This made it easier for British trade ships to be escorted to far flung corners of the world to trade in exotic spices. Mostly the ships were after things like pepper and cinnamon but during the middle of the 17th century the East India Company had a brainwave to import tea from China.


In 1659 Thomas Rugge wrote: Coffee, chocolate and a kind of drink called tee…sold in every street.”


Samuel Pepy wrote in 1660: “I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink) of which I had never had drunk before


Tea slowly became almost as popular as coffee but unlike coffee it was considered a much less subversive drink.


By the 18th century, tea had invaded everyone’s home because the secure trade routes made Chinese tea cheap enough for the prosperous upper middle classes. Jane Austen’s characters all sat around drinking tea, The Bronte Sisters wrote about tea, tea started to pop up everywhere and you couldn’t escape from it.


By the 19th century Britain was well underway in forcibly colonizing India, and thus securing a steady supply of cheap tea. Britain also started to develop some iconic recipes of its own. 2nd Lord Grey is traditionally credited with the recipe for the original Earl Grey blend of tea, which is still drunk today. Tea had not just become a constant; it evolved into a national obsession during the Victorian era. There were manuals published on how to brew and serve tea. The Japanese tea ceremony may look extravagantly complicated but compared to the social nuances of the Victorian tea party…


So both coffee and tea are steeped in tradition – only we’re much less fussy about coffee now, maybe because the the rest of the world are better at making it, but we still love our tea!




Tea is the solution to everything.



Your house just got bombed? Have a cup of tea. England have lost the world cup…again? Have a cup of tea. Psychosomatic limp? Get your landlady to make you a cup of tea. Your nemesis is plotting your death? Invite him over for a cup of tea.


There are many different ways to drink tea in the UK. We are not a homogenous mass of people with poor dental hygiene.


The “working class” stereotype is of boiling hot tea in mug that is over sweetened and contains lots of milk. The “middle classes” are supposed to have  fine bone chain tea sets: with cups, saucers, little pots of sugar, a mini milk jug and these tiny silver spoons to stir with. Personally I've be happy with Sherlock's tea set, it's patriotic.






John drinks his tea from a mug but this does not mean he’s working class. This is a very homely informal way of drinking the national beverage and is probably what just about everyone does. Drinking tea out of a mug is what people do with their friends, their co-workers and their family or just alone.


John probably got his tea drinking habits from being a doctor (and being in the army). Trust me doctors drink copious amounts of tea all the time: at work, at home, between surgical cases, between sucking blood out of people’s veins…it’s a catastrophe when the doctor’s mess runs out of tea bags. They also drink copious amounts of coffee as well. Imagine trying to stay awake all night without the help of caffine.





vlcsnap-2013-04-03-12h21m34s229

When Moriarty comes to call, Sherlock makes sure to get out the good china (he has such a lovely tea set) to receive his nemesis. This is the more formal way to drink tea. Sherlock is inviting his nemesis in and like any polite host, he must offer refreshments but the entire tea set is there as a prop, something both to impress but also to stop Moriarty from feeling too comfortable.


In the same way, the tea set at Buckingham Palace in ASIB was quite a formal set up, though in this case it is to be expected and not solely there to make Sherlock feel uncomfortable.


By the way: Mycroft’s phrase “I’ll be mother,” merely means “I’m going to pour the tea.”


When Mycroft has tea at his gentleman’s club, obviously it’s going to be from a cup and saucer, such a classy establishment probably hasn’t heard of the proverbial mug, though it is quite possible Mycroft has a favourite mug at home (with The British Government printed across the side!).



How to make the Perfect Cuppa (or what John and Sherlock already know but you might not)








(Tip: if your tea looks like this - you're holding the wrong kind of tea party)


One particularly message really got me thinking:

Anonymous asked: I love your metas and I take a lot of them to heart when I'm writing. Now I have an question. I've come to learn that tea is a very touchy subject and the only thing that have had people send me rude comments for (personally I think I've made worse cultural errors in my ignorance, but that perhaps shows how ignorant I actually am). In canon there is a lot of mentionings of coffee but hardly any of tea (we know how they take their coffee, but not their tea etc.) Do you have a theory as to why?

I’m sorry tea has indirectly caused you unhappiness. It is by and large a wonderful drink. The people who have left rude comments on your blog are not worth listening to.

In answer to your question: BBC Sherlock was made very much for British audiences. There are certain idioms, phrases, even puns that are very British and may give the rest of the world the impression that we are all barmy.

Most people in Britain know how to make tea, it’s like an essential life skill, therefore the writers have never thought to go into detail about tea making – or even what the characters' tea preferences are. Tea references in Sherlock are actually ubiquitous, but they don’t all contain the word tea:

For example: John sarcastically pre-empting the response at Baskerville Army Base: “oh come in the kettle’s just boiled.”

No one thinks to explain these references because in the UK we all get them.








Some Essential Briticisms involving Tea



1. In the UK we do not boil kettles on stoves anymore. Jane Austen's servants might have made tea on a "stove" but that was the 18th century. In fact we don't even call the bit where you cook things on the "stove" it's a "hob". Hobs can be gas or electric but they are used for cooking not tea making. We almost always use electric kettles, I actually haven't seen a non-electric kettle since I was a very young child and even then that belonged to my grandmother.



2. Tea comes in many different varieties made by many different companies. When I talk about tea I mean black tea, not green tea or herbal tea or or fruit tea or ice(d) tea or Chinese tea. Black tea is by far the most common type of tea drunk in the UK. Most of it comes ground up in tea bags and not as loose leaves, although you can still get tea leaves. For a certain class of people only loose tea leaves will suffice, for the rest of us commoners - tea bags will do.




3. Many different blends of black tea appear on our supermarket shelves including but not limited to Earl Grey, Ceylon, Redbush, Everyday Tea (yes it's a real blend from Twinings), Assam, Yorkshire Tea, English Breakfast Tea, Lady Grey. It's impossible to generalize about who drinks what when and where. Some people have a favourite they always stick to, others drink different blends of tea at different times of the day and there are eccentric people out there who will vary their tea blend according to the phases of the moon.



4. Tetley, Twinings (I am offended that Microsoft word has Twinnings as a real word but not Twinings!), Typhoo, PG, Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate etc are brands not types of tea. Twinings is considered quite middle class and they do a nice range of different blends including herbal teas and specialty teas. Clippers does organic teas, which are slightly more expensive than average but come in nice packaging. Tetley, PG and Typhoo are less posh but taste just as nice in my opinion. They are the type of teas that everyone can afford and enjoy - a sort of everyday tea for the everyday Brit.



5. Tea in this county is traditionally drunk hot with or without milk and sugar. There are some people who like use lemon and honey instead, they are not the norm.



6. Cream does not go in tea. Cream tea does not literally mean tea with cream in it. The term cream tea specifically refers to scones with clotted cream and jam that are served with tea. It's a famous product of Devon and Cornwall.


7. Tea can be drunk at any time of the day or night. You do not have wait until tea time (and tea time does not actually mean it's tea time).




Tea and names for the different Meals of the Day



"Tea" in Britain can also mean the evening meal. It's part of the lexicon for most of Northern England and many more "working class" communities in the South. Tea time means it's time for the evening meal, there usually is actual tea but that's not really the point. In these communities the meal in the middle of day is often called dinner not lunch, because that would be the largest and most filling meal for a traditional labourer. Breakfast is still breakfast in case anyone is desperate to know.



For the middle/upper classes they traditionally had not three but four meals: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (and perhaps supper just before bed). "High Tea" or afternoon tea is an English tradition dating back to the 19th century. Dinner, the evening meal, was traditionally served very late in the evening because this gave the rich a chance to show off their ability to light their homes with either candles or electricity. Lunch was around midday, so there would be around seven hours between the two meals. The solution was afternoon tea taken in the early afternoon around three or four o'clock.



Actual tea is a must but this "meal" can also be quite substantial in terms of food. The food is generally designed to be eaten with the fingers - i.e. small cakes, finger sandwiches etc. Savoury and sweet foodstuffs are normally available, though more sweet than savoury.


In reality most of us work far too hard to have a break in the middle of the afternoon to eat finger foods, so afternoon tea as an facet of people's lives has almost dwindled away.


You can still have afternoon tea in a lot of the upmarket hotels in Britain. Claridges does a good one, so does the Savoy.






Welcome to Britain: where we have freedom of speech, religion, press etc. but if you make your tea slightly differently to everyone else you will be persecuted.



To help out fanfic writers who are afraid of being culturally ignorant or being branded a heathen: here’s how to make a conformist cup of tea John style :

Boil the kettle (you need boiling water and I mean boiling. Sherlock wouldn’t even serve the man who’s going to burn his heart out lukewarm tea.)

Dump a tea bag in the mug (before you add the water – seriously it has to be in that order or else you might be metaphorically burnt at the stake)

Add the water

Pull the tea bag out before the water gets too dark (ideally within 1-2 minutes)

Ask the people you are making tea for whether they want:

Milk (if so add a dash of milk – not half a pint. Most people have milk in their tea, it’s okay to add some if you don’t know what they want)

Sugar (this comes in spoons or cubes, but mostly spoons. Most people have one or two, if they have three you are entitled to look at them questioningly, if they want more than five they are better off drinking lucozade instead)

Add your own milk/sugar

Drink it when it’s hot – cold tea is vile.



NB: In terms of Ice(d) tea some supermarkets sell it with the fruit juices. When someone wants a cup of tea they do not expect a glass of clear brown liquid with ice cubes floating in it.

Note: I used to like adding milk in first as a child until I was summarily scolded and forced to make tea the conformist way. Apparently I am not the only non-conformist out there! People who add milk first UNITE! We are not a heathens or of low-breeding. You can understand how serious the British take their tea if we will argue over the when to add milk.


How to make a conformist cup of tea for your arch-enemy, obsessive psychopaths, and/or other important guests:


Get out the good china (you ideally should have a matching tea set like Sherlock; the electric kettle does not count as part of the set. Non-matching items are sort of okay but be prepared for condescending/sarcastic remarks about how interesting your tea set is)

Boil the kettle

Use some of the water to warm the tea pot and then discard this

Add loose tea leaves (or a tea bag) to the empty tea pot (kettle was a massive typo)

Pour in the hot water and leave to brew ideally for between 2-5 minutes (do not over brew your tea, it will taste vile).

Pour tea into the cups through a strainer (its bad practice to allow any bits to enter the tea)

Allow your guest to add their own milk and sugar (because seriously you’ve been doing all the work thus far).

Stir your tea silently with a spoon. Do not stick your little finger out when lifting up the cup, it is a myth that high born ladies used to this, they didn’t, because frankly it makes you look ridiculous.

Smile politely or remain impassive at any ensuing death threats – remember tea solves everything eventually.



Do Brits Drink Coffee?





Lestrade does, he apparently likes the cafe bought variety, and plenty of us drink coffee as well as tea in our homes. It is considered polite to offer both to guests if you have them.


Starbucks is very popular in the UK, though part of this may be aggressive capitalism. It is definitely not farfetched to have John and Sherlock drinking coffee. In fact we already know what Sherlock’s coffee preferences are.


For readers in other nations we also drink hot chocolate, malt drinks like Horlicks, fruit juice and tonnes of alcohol. Tea may be the solution to everything but you won't be dehydrated if you don't want to drink it.



Got better tea tips than I do? Is this article so utterly obvious that you are insulted it even exists? Does this meta contain so many mistakes that you'd like to cyber-stab me with pitchfork? Everyone is welcome to leave their comments below.

Comments

( 140 comments — Leave a comment )
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mymuseandi
Apr. 3rd, 2013 12:01 pm (UTC)
I have been loving all your metas so far, and this one is both adorable and funny. I'm not British, but I'm in a country that was once a British colony, so I guess the tea-making skills do pass on to us, since I make tea the same way you've just described! :p

I want to know if you have any guesses as to how the Sherlock characters take their tea? Do you think John takes his tea without milk or sugar? I think Sherlock puts milk in him (from what I could remember in Reichenbach Fall) but nothing else.
wellingtongoose
Apr. 3rd, 2013 12:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I seem to remember that Sherlock told Molly he liked coffee: black, two sugars. I assume he still takes milk in his tea but he would also like sugar (maybe just one sugar as tea is quite as bitter as coffee). As for John I'm convinced he has lots of sugar (and milk) - just to keep him going throughout the work day!

shezan
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
Seriously, the definitive piece on how to make a proper cup of tea has been written by George Orwell and never bettered.
wellingtongoose
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
Oh well I can't beat George Orwell, though he was much less inclined to brandish his methods as the only way to make tea. I assume he, like me, wrote it as a jaunt to add to the thoughts on tea drinking not to be the one and only piece.

Edited at 2013-04-03 01:39 pm (UTC)
eglantine_br
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:53 pm (UTC)
My MIL told me once that milk in tea was an English thing. She said the Irish do not put milk in tea. I am a USA-ian. (So is she.)

Is this true? Are there any sub-groups implied by milk in tea? I like milk in my tea. She does not.
wellingtongoose
Apr. 3rd, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
I've had tea in Ireland and I got milk added without asking. Perhaps the real Irish people don't put milk in tea - they just serve milk to the tourists.

Most of my Irish friends always have milk in tea. The only one who does not is lactose intolerance. I don't know if spending too much in Britain has corrupted them or if they emigrated because they had such subversive tea drinking habits ;)

I'd say milk in tea is pretty ubiquitous across Great Britain: England, Wales, Scotland, though there are always regional variations and personal preferences.
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(no subject) - wellingtongoose - Apr. 3rd, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - wellingtongoose - Apr. 4th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
cleflink
Apr. 3rd, 2013 02:12 pm (UTC)
*laughs* My parents are British and this is exactly the way we observe tea in my house. I learned how to make a cup of tea before I was old enough to have the arm strength to lift the kettle; it's definitely a vital part of the day (all mugs around here, though).

I recently heard someone describe tea as the British solution to awkward silences, which I find humourous and rather accurate.

Also, that gif of Lestrade is hilarious. Don't talk with your mouth full, sir!
wellingtongoose
Apr. 3rd, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree tea is the best social lubricant: it tastes good and leaves you sober. If you have nothing to say, drinking is a good way of making your moth otherwise occupied.
cedara
Apr. 3rd, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
Personally, I prefer tea without milk and then it's usually green tea.
arianedevere
Apr. 3rd, 2013 03:24 pm (UTC)
It's not clear whether Sherlock adds sugar to his tea during his confrontation with Moriarty in 221B. We see him add milk but if he does add sugar, he does it during a cut-away to Moriarty. I have sugar in coffee but not in tea, so he could do either. What I love is that he doesn't offer the sugar bowl to Jim even though it's on the tray - so not only does he hand him the cup and saucer the wrong way round so that left-handed Jim has to swivel the cup around in order to be able to pick it up, but he insults him even more by not offering him any sugar!
wellingtongoose
Apr. 3rd, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC)
Yes he's really going for it with those little insults.
(no subject) - bugeyedmonster - Apr. 6th, 2013 03:09 am (UTC) - Expand
eglantine_br
Apr. 3rd, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Perfect little details. When my daughter was little we lived in the south (USA) people there drink a lot of ice tea. Sometimes it is called 'sweet tea.' So if you want the other kind you have to specify 'hot tea.' My girl thought it was all one word 'hottee.'
suggsygirl
Apr. 3rd, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
I put the milk in the mug with the teabag and then add the water and people get very, VERY, touchy about this to the point where I am regularly told I am doing it wrong. I'm British and I realise that I don't make tea the 'normal' way but it tastes exactly the same and I have proven this with various blind taste experiments.

You know you're British when you scientifically test your tea making hypothesis!

I think if non-British people pick up one thing about the Brits it's that it is not a myth that we love our tea. It is literally the solution to everything.
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wellingtongoose
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:27 pm (UTC)
Haha kettle was a massive typo, thanks for correcting.

I did once attempt to make tea using only a kettle, it was a mild success.

My housemate only drinks English Breakfast Tea but at all times of the day. Twinnings herbal teas are a bit hit and miss. I once tried the lemon one only to find my tea turned the colour of infected urine. It was highly disturbing.
(no subject) - airynothing - Apr. 4th, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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ariadnechan
Apr. 3rd, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
oh i love tea subject!!

i live in Chile very far South America, we have cold weather and some desert like weather in the north.

Tea came with British in 19th century because the mining in the north. English men Left, some last names stayed and tea stayed for good!.

In general tea in my country is black tea (ceylon mostly) without milk and sugar, obviously hot.

But in my house my grand mother and her sister always served tea with milk.

A popular way to take tea in my country is brew in a pot with a cinnamon branch in it.

Now we take all kinds of tea

i prefer green tea in big mugs so i use two bags, because my favorite mug is like two normal mugs :)

here people drink coffee too but less and generally instant coffee in the past.

This century young people are more inclined to drink grain coffee and to experiment with more blends of tea, than the traditional. like Red, White, green, Earl gray, darjeling, chai, Orange pick, With fruits, vanilla, etc, etc!


I wonder in England when you buy tea the normal blend is Earl gray? Ceylon?




Edited at 2013-04-03 08:26 pm (UTC)
wellingtongoose
Apr. 4th, 2013 04:01 pm (UTC)
There's lots of tea blends - I added a little sections about blends just for you in the meta :)

Earl Grey is very popular so it English breakfast tea and you don't have to have it only at breakfast.

Green tea, fruit tea, floral tea and herbals teas are slightly different to the normal black tea blends. They are usually drunk without milk and brewed in slightly different ways.

Cinnamon with tea sounds like a brilliant idea, I will try that one day.
laitsah
Apr. 3rd, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
I really thank you for this meta!

I knew tea is a big thing in Britain, but it is nice to have someone point out such specifics! (Most people in America who use an electric kettle are college students. Chinese Americans tend to have a hot water machine so they can have at 90C hot water available all day. For freshly boiling water, it is boiled on the stove for guests or special teas, such as black tea or dragonwell.)
wellingtongoose
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:29 pm (UTC)
Really, a hot water machine?! That sounds very futuristic. Yes, in the UK we almost always use electric kettles. I've not seen a non-electric kettle since I was very very young and that was in my grandma's house.

(no subject) - laitsah - Apr. 4th, 2013 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bugeyedmonster - Apr. 6th, 2013 03:42 am (UTC) - Expand
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rilestar
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
I've just got back from 4 weeks in England, and I'm so glad I cultivated a tea appreciation before I went! Here in Melbourne we're so fussy about our coffee that Starbucks had to shut 90% of their stores down as only tourists and teenagers go there. I found the coffee in England to be, as a rule, far too weak, and mostly pretty horrible tasting, I'm afraid! I gave up, in the end, and chugged tea for my caffeine needs.

I did note that over there, as here, I had to repeatedly jump in and stop people automatically adding milk to my tea. I drink coffee and tea black, no sugar, and I found I'm just as much an oddity over your way as I am in Australia!
wellingtongoose
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed tea while you were here. Coffee in Australia definitely tastes better, I had a great time on elective in Adelaide where I just drank coffee and ate gelato.

(no subject) - rilestar - Apr. 4th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
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johnnypenn
Apr. 4th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
This is very interesting. Funnily enough I grew up reading all sorts of British literature and so I didn't have hardly as much trouble with the whole tea thing as others. I think I was more surprised that they drank coffee even - here I am being all American and thinking all the Brits ever drank was tea. *eye roll* None the less, I pretty much got all the tea references. Though, why on earth a cuppa is supposed to fix anything is beyond me.

But I'll tell you what; last week my neighbor - who's dying from Cancer - had a bit of a scare when his wife went to the hospital. Anyway, I thought to myself to make him a cup of tea and then everything would be fine...er...I didn't and now I wish I had.

lothy
Apr. 6th, 2013 01:44 pm (UTC)
In the UK when asking someone if they want a drink it's customary to just say "Tea or coffee?" because most people drink both on a regular basis.

As a very rare Brit who doesn't drink EITHER (shock horror), this can be a problem for me sometimes! I sometimes have to just drink cold water because only tea & coffee are available. That said, I am increasingly seeing hot chocolate and/or cold drinks on offer (e.g. the hotel I stayed in recently had hot chocolate sachets in the rooms together with the tea bags and coffee sachets).
(no subject) - tweedisgood - Apr. 8th, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
librasmile
Apr. 4th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
Deliciously enlightening. Thank you!

What to do when you run out of tea or coffee:

Heat milk to just before scalding. Stir in honey, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Drink with relish.
wellingtongoose
Apr. 4th, 2013 06:56 pm (UTC)
Ooh this seems to be a very nice idea.
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livejournal
Apr. 4th, 2013 07:30 am (UTC)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
User carolyn_claire referenced to your post from Wednesday, April 3, 2013 saying: [...] at More Tea Please, We're Sherlocked [...]
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