Life Beyond the Teabag

Diane Eddy

Behind the modern-day cup of tea are centuries of complex imperial history and worldwide trade, high politics, wars and the habits of millions of people — as well as centuries of literature involving tea. It is one of the ironies of those very British literary references in such enduring works as Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and Wilde’s The Importance of being Ernest, that nothing is less English than the tea itself, given that the plant is grown in India and China and often sweetened by sugar from the Caribbean.

Although unknown in England until the mid-1600s, within 300 years tea had become an everyday essential for the English, the Irish, Europeans and Americans — a vital necessity for people from royalty to the most impoverished beggar. As the Swedish writer, historian and poet, Erik Gustav Geijer noted in 1809, “Next to water, tea is the Englishman’s proper element. All classes consume it…” Not only was it consumed in copious quantities, it was incorporated into the literature, often being the centerpiece of a story and advice columns such as Annie Swan’s “Over the Teacups,” in which women exchanged confidences.

Tea as the symbol of female friendship was usurped in 1894 by Algernon Moncrieff in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. This broadening of tea’s characterization carries through Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Rudyard Kipling, and right into Dracula and on to T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Hardly a plot of 19th century literature was untouched by tea.

The modern-day tea renaissance rests securely on the foundation of these great works of literature, taking us back to tea’s civilizing and calming influence as we navigate through a very fast-paced and complex world. Today we are returning to one of literature’s most appreciated social rituals – preparing tea for friends, or being treated to afternoon tea. Our December 20 tea tasting class will take us on a journey exploring tea’s prominence in English literature and how tea so greatly influences the world. As Henry James declares in The Portrait of a Lady, “Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Come join us as we explore some of the great teas that are the centerpieces of English literature. Students, please bring a teacup and saucer along with your sense of humor and adventure. Bring your friends and come join us December 20 from 10:00 a.m.-noon in the Sun Lakes Country Club’s Navajo Room. The cost of the class is $5 per person and reservations are necessary.

Please call Diane at 480-219-6211 or email her at [email protected] for more information and to make your reservation.