As I have remarked before, there is a tea for every emotion, every occasion. I have many times mentioned those occasions and/or occasions.
When we owned our tea shop, we had a customer who would come in and describe her mood in one or a few words: ‘whimsical’, ‘running on empty’, ‘elated’ and ‘over-monsignored**’ remain in my memory. Each time, we’d select just the right tea.
Even as recently as a few days ago, a guy whose Queen instructional guitar videos I love (James Rundle, look him up on facebook if you need to play any Queen song ever released) was posting from the line outside the current tour and then from within. I didn’t exactly count, but I think it was 3156 photos, 746 videos and 3761 observations. This led me to think: what tea goes with seething with jealousy? In the end I drank some Seaside Rendezvous*** to get with the vibe.
But this leads me to the point of today’s blog: what about times where quality tea is so ingrained that one does not need to think about? Where it is just expected? In this case: Afternoon Tea.
Whether you call it Afternoon Tea or High Tea (let’s not have that argument here) I’d have to say there is a massively worrying trend.
A few years ago such an event would consist of delectable comestibles, wave after wave of excellent loose leaf tea and for those who like to indulge, a glass of Pimms No 1 or perhaps a flute of champagne.
Often this is reflected in the way the pricing is presented. For example, the Dorchester in Park Lane has a price with or without a glass of champagne and with or without a glass or Pimms.
In other words, why not add a nice cold, alcoholic drink to your afternoon tea experience? And indeed, it’s a fair question.
But lately, I see two worrying trends:
- The march back to loose leaf tea has been halted, with even quite large establishments seemingly believing that it’s OK to cheat your customers by using teab*gs.
- The idea of unlimited alcohol packages.
What? Really? What? Really?
Part of this, I am sure, is an idea that as Afternoon Tea becomes less of an event to take your Mum**** to and more of a get-together by 20-somethings (a group I am old and grumpy enough to criticise), the venues may believe they are catering to the needs of a growing consumer segment.
But surely the environment of small treats and civilised conversation cannot stand up to the truly awful swathe of destruction caused by a group of young professionals who are off their noodles by 3.15 in the afternoon?
A group whose day has consisted of skipping breakfast, checking facebook because they can’t remember what they did the night before and then filling up on sugary cakes and sparkling wine might well behave themselves. They might also dance on tables. Who knows? It’s hard for proto-adults – as many under 30s actually are – to act in a civilised manner at the best of times.
Now, I must say over the years I have met many young people – the youngest being 4 – who take tea incredibly seriously and wouldn’t dream of misbehaving.
So, I’m going to mention the Temperance movement. The one either side of the turn of the 20th century.
Contrary to popular belief these days, it was not a campaign to stamp out alcohol (though that was its stupid conclusion in the US), it was an attempt to stamp out anti-social behaviour. Mostly men blowing their week’s wages on the way home in a bar or fighting and public drunkenness.
These days, we like to fight such issues by understanding the social pressures which lead to these occurrences, and good on us, we’re all really clever until it goes wrong and then in can’t be helped and we can all wring our hands. There’s a young irish tourist in Australia fighting for his life right now after a drunken punch from his brother.
Unlimited drink packages encourage people to drink unlimited drinks. Afternoon tea should be a relaxed, civilised affair. It’s not the perfect combination.
Wonderfully presented food and quality teaware, filled with gorgeous tea, is not sullied by the presence of a jug of Pimm’s all kitted out with fruit and mint. It is sullied by obnoxious high pitched laughter, drunken arguments and someone vomiting on the ribbon sandwiches.
To take another tack, why promote these events as Afternoon Tea? Surely venues wishing to go down that path can thaw out some supermarket frozen cocktail pies, get some corn chips into a bowl and call it by a more suitable name, like Cocktail Party, Drinks Arvo or Barf-a-thon.
So, I say, Temperance 2015 starts here. Let’s get unlimited drink packages out of the tea rooms and get drunken family brawls back where they belong: at weddings and funerals.
Perhaps we won’t organise marches in the street, but we can start by gently and politely criticising those who promote such events.
Let’s do it over a cup of tea. Now, which one?
*Links are to the USA shop. Head here if the Australian store is required. The UK is currently not active.
** The lady in question worked for the Catholic Church as a librarian
***Not available in the USA, sorry. And being phased out in Australia.
**** Not my Mum. She has no tea palate whatsoever and is quite frankly an embarrassment. When she was in hospital once, she asked ME to take in her favourite brand of teab*gs. ME! The whole thing haunts me to this day.