Tuesday, 1 June 2010

tea: i take it

I like old things. I like new things too, but there's something special about holding an item that had a purpose long before you were even born. I've been thinking for some time that I'€™d like to start collecting something. Nothing expensive, just something pretty that I'd get some simple pleasure from owning. But what to collect?

I am more than mildly obsessed with tea and the ritual that drinking it creates. There are very few foods or drinks that I could not imagine living without, but tea is one of them. I consume it every day without fail. When I don't drink it, I actually feel unwell. This is most likely a caffeine withdrawal symptom rather than a physical desire to drink tea. But withdrawal symptoms aren’t very romantic sounding, are they? 

Despite this need to drink the steeping juices of an ancient Chinese leaf , I never partake in the ceremony of €˜taking tea€™. I've spent a lot of time in the US and I think I genuinely upset one American lady when informed her that the British do not '€˜take afternoon tea'€™ daily. I should add Myth Buster to my business card. (I don'€™t have a business card.)

Anyway, with this in mind I decided to buy my first vintage teacup and saucer from eBay, the plan being to use it and add a dash of posh to my tea drinking maybe once a week. They don'€™t need to be antique, they just need to have some age, be beautiful and make me feel special when I place my lips on the edge to drink from on them. This was my first purchase:

Apparently it'€™s 1930s-1940s and I love it dearly. The day it arrived in a tightly taped box, I was stupidly excited. I should have been working, but I spent my time jamming blunt scissors through the creases of the cardboard box and trying desperately not to jab the delicate china with the end of the scissors. Drinking from a porcelain teacup may be elegant, but I have quite a penchant for clumsiness. Once it was out of the box I paraded the cup (trembling and rattling on top of the saucer) around the office as if I was presenting my first-born child. People smiled sweetly and cooed, but none of them loved it like I did.

It sat in front of me on my desk for the rest of the day and, for some inexplicable reason, I constantly felt the need to pick the cup up and hold it in my hands.

Once home, I set it down in a safe place and left it there until Saturday. Come Saturday I made myself some tea, poured it gently into my dainty cup, slid a disgustingly cream-filled choux bun onto a side place and sat down in the living room to ‘take afternoon tea’. I had a slight fear that the hairline crack in the glaze might have laddered its way through to the edge, but then I reminded myself that it had survived some 70 years in the world without falling to pieces. Five days in my possession should not cause it to shatter. I may be clumsy, but I cannot rival the Second World War.

Admittedly, this wasn’t the most dignified of afternoon teas. I could at least have sat at a table. But it made me smile throughout nonetheless. I even felt an involuntary compulsion to stick my little finger out. It’s true; tea really does taste better from a porcelain cup. My next mission, if collecting these delicate vessels is going to be a passion, is to research this curious Western ritual and learn its history. I will then execute an authentic afternoon tea and share it with you.

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