Southern Agrarianism is closely tied to the Southern plantation culture, where the enjoyment of simple pleasures and little luxuries play an important part. This is part of an irregular series of posts that look at some of those little, affordable luxuries that virtually anyone can enjoy.
The Southern plantation culture was largely shaped by the Cavaliers, who brought their English customs with them when they fled the English civil war and settled in The South. Part of that culture is the custom of afternoon tea. Why did it not catch on here? Well, it began in 1840, and by 1880, afternoon tea had become firmly entrenched in English culture. The War for Southern Independence (1861 – 1865) interrupted such cultural transfers, and the impoverished state that it inflicted on The South made tea an unaffordable luxury for nearly everyone. That, however, is no reason that we cannot enjoy the custom today.
Lest anyone think that enjoying a relaxing cup of hot tea is something practiced only by the ladies and by effeminate males who sip from dainty tea cups while extending their pinky finger, consider the fact that, since 1945, the British Army has had “Boiling Vessels” built into every tank and armored vehicle so that soldiers could make their tea without being exposed to enemy fire. Many current U.S. armored vehicles now include a similar feature, designated “Heater, Water & Rations”. We should also note here that the concept of enjoying a relaxing cup of tea also applies just as well to coffee; we’re just focusing on tea due to its connection to traditional English culture.
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Up until just a few years ago, I truly believed that there was only one way to serve tea in The South – Sweet with lots of ice, and served in a tall glass. Though I still enjoy a tall glass of sweet iced tea as much as any Southerner, my wife and I have made a practice of enjoying a cup of hot tea together as we sit on the back porch swing. Sometimes, it’s just a simple cup of tea – sometimes we include traditional English scones (she has perfected a recipe based on one from an English tea room that we enjoyed going to).
As with many such little luxuries, the enjoyment is not just drinking the tea, but it begins with the ritual of preparing it. If you’re new to hot tea, here is how we prepare it, and it’s a nice starting point.
- Start with loose leaf Earl Grey tea. We get ours from Twinings, who have been in the tea business since 1706. For convenience, or for decaffeinated tea, you can use tea bags. Since part of the enjoyment is from the ritual of preparing the loose leaf tea, and since there is at least a theoretical advantage in using loose leaf, that is how we make ours. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry it, you can order directly from Twinings (link).
- Measure out one teaspoon of loose leaf tea into a tea infuser (Amazon link).
- Fill one cup with water (the type of water used makes a big difference, so try tap water, well water, filtered spring water, and whatever else you have available to see which you prefer) and pour it into an electric pot.
- Use cold tap water to rinse the tea in the infuser to wash out any tea dust and “relax” the tea leaves. Place the infuser and tea into your cup.
- Heat the water to boiling, then pour it over the tea until the cup is full. Always use fresh water. Never re-boil water. Never boil longer than necessary.
- Set a timer to three and a half minutes. At the end of that time, remove the infuser from the cup.
- Sweeten to taste. I use the same amount of sugar as tea – one teaspoon. We also use Turbinado sugar (local grocery store or Amazon link), which is a tan-colored, raw unrefined sugar.
- Let it cool enough so you don’t burn your mouth. Enjoy.
There are all sorts of things you can do along with this, and it’s something that both husband and wife can enjoy together. Experiment with different traditional ways of brewing tea. Brew several cups at a time in a tea pot. Try some of the many different types of tea available. Look into the health benefits of tea. For a bit of fun, check out the Star Trek connection on YouTube. Host a Ladies Tea (link is to one that my wife organized – it has become an annual event at our church). Collect different kinds of tea cups, tea pots, mugs, infusers, tea strainers, etc.
As a “Little Luxury”, it is meant to be enjoyed, so have some fun with it. Enjoy a relaxing cup of tea.