As with any custom or ritual that has been so embedded in history, tea comes with its own set of do’s and don’ts. Of course, as tea is drunk the world over, there are some quite specific rules depending upon where you may be.
What not to do?
As a general rule, if you’d like to be admired as a true British gentleman or lady when taking your tea, then you’d be best advised never to:
X let your teaspoon crash against the sides of your dainty bone china cup; it’s just plain vulgar
X leave your teaspoon in your cup; it must always be placed on the saucer with the handle pointing in the same direction as the cup handle
X cradle your cup with your fingers; hold the handle with your thumb and forefinger but don’t ever let your pinky extend out; apparently, it’s seen as extravagant and attention-seeking
X allow your saucer to travel further than 30 cm (12in) from your cup
X sip from your spoon (unless, of course, you are a tea taster like Louise)
X swirl your tea around your cup, as you might with wine, for instance
X slurp; absolutely don’t slurp, just sip.
✓ Of course, if you just want to enjoy your tea and make it in a nice big mug, then you can do any or all of the above and no one will think any the worse of you! Just be sure to make your brew following our unbreakable rules to get the best out of your tea and enjoy it any time, anywhere.
Globetrotting tea drinkers: be aware!
Here are a few things to take on board for when you’re drinking tea in a foreign country and want to be on your best behaviour.
- Vietnam – An offer of tea at a reception or meeting is a ritual form of hospitality and should not be refused.
- Russia – Don’t hesitate to have your tea with a piece of cake, as it is considered quite rude to serve the tea ‘naked’.
- India – Reluctantly decline the first offer of tea and let your host insist. Then, after some insistence, politely cave in.
- Germany – Don’t stir if you’ve been made an East Frisian tea cloud.
- Japan – Always taste your tea first before adding sugar or milk.
- Argentina – Don’t use the bombilla (straw) to stir the yerba mate in a gourd.
- China – Express your thanks by gently tapping two fingers on the table. Just two, mind.
- Morocco – If in a souk, finish your tea before haggling.
- Turkey – Since it is offered all the time and everywhere, it is a gesture of hospitality and you must always take the tea, even if you only put it to your lips or just take a few sips.
- Egypt – Always accept the cup of tea and/or coffee. Never pour your own drink. Even if you don’t want it, accept it anyway, and simply don’t drink it. If you refuse, your host may feel rejected.
Confessions of a tea dunker
Do you like to dunk biscuits into your tea? I do. If you’re not sure what I’m on about, then let me give you a definition of the verb ‘dunk’. Dunk: to dip food into a drink before eating it. Sounds straightforward, but in reality it’s so much more complex than that. Read on to find out why.
I realise that dunking biscuits into tea may be a very British thing to do (although I have heard that Americans dip Oreos into milk and Aussies like to dip a Tim Tam in their brew), but how and where did this ritual originate?
Could it have come from one of the major tea-producing nations, such as China or India? Perhaps it was a Mayan pastime, originally using hot chocolate instead of tea and devised to keep them occupied after their calendar-making came to a halt? Or could it have been the Ancient Romans, who invented pretty much everything else?
Despite some thorough research, my dear friends Google and Wikipedia failed to come up with a definite conclusion, at which point I decided to stop searching its origins and instead simply grabbed a biscuit and raised a cup to salute the fact that the glorious practice remains with us.
Did you know?
Some research has the roots of dunking biscuits aboard naval vessels. The incredibly dry biscuits (aimed at keeping the sailor’s nutrition levels up) kept really well for the long voyages of those times, but they were inedible unless dunked into something repeatedly – whether it was tea or rum is another matter.
SO, WHY DO WE DUNK?
It seems that there is just something inordinately satisfying about eating a warm, wet biscuit; the taste and texture of that just-soaked crumb bring with it a heart-warming comfort. Our taste buds work best when we eat warm or hot foods rather than cold, so our taste buds are telling us to dunk into a hot brew.
DARING TO DUNK
How brave are you when it comes to dunking? Are you a single dipper or do you like to double or, even, triple dunk? Of course, the biscuit itself matters here but it’s also the thrill of running the gauntlet of getting that soggy crumb to your mouth without it ending up down your front. In my mind, it’s akin to Russian roulette with biscuits.
Will you overdo it ever so slightly and lose half of the biscuit to your milky brew? It’s a risky business – just like deciding to twist rather than stick in a game of Blackjack or to carry on driving when the fuel gauge is flashing and the motorway sign says ‘Next services in 1 mile or 67 miles’.
Daring to dunk just one more time – and getting away with it – is so rewarding, that I can’t help but try it; afterwards tell anyone who cares (and plenty of people who don’t).
THE BEST DUNKABLE BISCUITS
From personal experience, I find the type of biscuit is terribly important. Firm-textured, dense and tightly bound biscuits, such as Rich Tea and Digestives, are good bets; crumbly and brittle chocolate-chip cookies, for instance, are just asking for trouble.
Some purists would say that a chocolate-coated biscuit is cheating – like applying a layer of clear nail varnish to a conker (did anyone else do that or was it just me?) – while others would add that the chocolate meltiness adds an extra pleasurable sensation. I say that, provided the biscuit goes with the tea (sweet or neutral rather than salty, and black or rooibos tea, not green or white), you are very much the author of your own dunking destiny.
WHAT WE LIKE TO DUNK
- A quick straw poll around the tea pigs office revealed the following preferences:
- Nick Everyday Brew with milk, Bourbon (the biscuit, not the booze)
- Louise Earl Grey Strong, no milk, Rich Tea biscuit
- Nikki Darjeeling Earl Grey with milk, Gingernut biscuit
- Nicole Everyday Brew, Rich Tea biscuit – nice and soggy
- Tori Iced liquorice & mint, mint Club biscuit – double mint!
- Lucy Darjeeling Earl Grey, Digestive biscuit
- Reece Superfruit, pink wafer
- Valerie Rooibos, dark-chocolate Digestive biscuit
- Rosie Chai, Hobnob biscuit
- Rachel Earl Grey Strong, fruit shortcake
- Sofia Everyday Brew, Boaster biscuit
- Reggie Rooibos Crème Caramel, chocolate cookie
- Juliana Everyday Brew, Bourbon biscuit
WHAT TEA MOOD ARE YOU IN TODAY?