…Nanny bakes fairy cakes on a Sunday morning

If the occasion is at all formal, then cups and saucers, rather than mugs, ought to be used and the host/hostess should serve, while adhering to the following protocols:

  1. Fresh water in the kettle should be brought to a boil.
  2. Enough of the boiling water should be swirled within the teapot to warm it, and then poured out.
  3. Loose (preferably black) tea leaves should be added, with a level spoonful per cup, and then one for the pot.  Tea bags may be used, if you must.
  4. Fresh, boiling water should be poured over the tea leaves and the tea should be allowed to brew for two to five minutes, while a tea cosy is placed over the pot to keep it warm.
  5. Be mindful that the tea should not be allowed to over-steep (no more than ten minutes), else it will become “stewed” and bitter to the taste.
  6. Milk (not cream) may be added to one’s teacup, with the host/hostess asking the guest if milk is desired.
  7. Sugar may also be added to one’s teacup, according to taste.
  8. When it’s ready, (unless tea bags are used) a tea strainer should be placed over the top of each teacup while the tea is poured.
  9. If tea bags are used, they may be removed from the pot, once the desired strength has been attained.
  10. If the pot contains extra tea, then the tea cosy should re-cover the teapot.

If the occasion is, shall we say, more utilitarian, then a bag of Tetley or PG Tips in a mug with lots of milk and sugar (aka “builder’s tea”) and boiling water straight from the kettle is quite all right. And there you have the basics of making English (okay, and Scottish, Welsh and Irish too) tea

The British have been the world’s largest consumers of tea per capita (now averaging 2.5 kilos per year) since the 18th Century when China tea (“tcha” in Chinese) along with (Central American) chocolate could be found in coffeehouses as alternatives to coffee.  By the 19th Century shoots from the tea plant had been stealthily “exported” from China to the Indian subcontinent under British control, and while London burgeoned into the center of international tea trade, the beverage itself became the brew of choice for the vast majority of British subjects.

With its ever-increasing popularity teashops, ranging from rudimentary to gracious, spread throughout the Kingdom, as did certain class-based traditions, such as tea parties and tea dances.  Tea also became synonymous with certain meals.

Afternoon tea is a late-afternoon snack meant to hold one over until mid-evening suppertime. For some this might include finger sandwiches or buttered scones. Or it could be a cream tea, referring to the clotted cream that’s spread over the scones along with strawberry jam. Then there’s high tea, usually taken between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm, which is actually a full meal (as such, “tea” refers to the main evening meal in many parts of the UK), although “high tea” is/was traditionally eaten by upper and upper middle class children, whose parents dined formally later in the evening.

Which brings us to today’s pastoral selection, written and performed by a man who has experienced the full spectrum of class (and presumably tea) society in his 70 years (next Monday) as an Englishman.  Sir James Paul McCartney, MBE is recognized by that towering authority of such matters, “The Guinness Book of World Records” as the most commercially successful songwriter, musician and composer in the history of popular music. Today’s song was featured on his 2005 (and 13th solo) album, “Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard.”

Personally I envision it being sung by a young boy in the back garden of his home on the outskirts of an English cathedral town…in 1964.  And where is he now?  Secure in the knowledge that he still enjoys his tea, have a look for yourself:


English Tea

Would you care to sit with me?

For a cup of English tea

Very twee, very me

Any sunny morning

 What a pleasure it would be

Chatting so delightfully

Nanny bakes fairy cakes

Every Sunday morning

 Miles and miles of English garden, stretching past the willow tree

Lines of hollyhocks and roses, listen most attentively

Do you know the game croquet?

An adventure we might play

Very gay, hip hooray

Any sunny morning


 Miles and miles of English garden, stretching past the willow tree

Lines of hollyhocks and roses, listen most attentively

 As a rule the church bells chime

When it’s almost suppertime

Nanny bakes fairy cakes

On a Sunday morning

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