We asked our local Englishwomen a few basic questions:
Q. What teacups make tea taste the best?
A. The English Tea Ladies deplore mugs, and shudder at Styrofoam. They serve their tea on bone china. “The more delicate flavors and aromas of the tea are much more noticeable,” explains Lauren Tucker. “Many of the older generation, they have their pieces that they use every day. My parents will use mugs, but they know if they have certain people over, they have to drink it out of bone china cups and saucer. It tastes different. It gives you a different mindset, drinking out of a cup and saucer.”
Q. But I’m in my 20s. Is that too young for vintage bone china?
A. An absolute no! In England, Tucker says, bone china is making a comeback among the young. “People have been going out and buying bone china. There have been a lot of vintage tea party scenes, and a lot of weddings now with vintage themes. It’s just so elegant, a formal way to entertain.”
Q. I saw this china cup I like at an estate sale. What’s a good way to tell if it’s good?
A. Drop it on the floor. Just kidding! However, the English Tea Ladies have a secret about bone china: If it’s good, you can drop it, and it won’t break. “Apparently, the china itself is maybe 25 percent real bones, animal bones,” says Tucker. “If it’s a real fine bone china, plate or cup, it shouldn’t break when it drops.” (Asked how often she has tested that theory, Tucker confesses she has not tested it often. “I used to work in a china shop in England,” she says. “I sold bone china. They used to tell us that; I never risked it.”)
Q. What kind of tea do they drink in England?
A. Ninety percent of tea in England is made with tea bags, the English Tea Ladies say. Alenka Lawrence, the British blogger, names Tetley as a popular brand.
Q. Finally: What goes in first, the tea or the milk?
A. The tea, advises Lawrence. “It’s terribly important. It’s a sign of what class you are,” she adds, sounding like Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey.” “The thing is, if you’re upper class, you put the tea in first. If you’re lower class, the milk. The reason that was, apparently, is teacups used to be very, very fine porcelain. If you could put the hot tea in the cup without it breaking, it’s a sign that it’s good enough.”