Always a good time to relax with a cuppa

Widely known since the 5th and 6th century the brew is obtained from the fresh tips of the leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, deftly plucked in the early morning and then dried before packaging.
The plant spread from China by way of the Silk Road into the wealthy households of Europe.

Always competing in popularity with coffee, tea initially was considered a medicine but gained prominence in royal courts where the ladies turned “taking a dish of tea” into a social event.  

As expensive a commodity as the many spices, tea leaf was kept in locked containers (caddies) with the key kept the lady of the house or trusted housekeeper.

Much of the cost lay in taxes, often more than 100 per cent, imposed by governments to fund various wars, arguably the most famous being the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773.

Dissidents tipped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbour as a protest against the British East India Company’s monopoly to supply colonists and the British imposing a tax without the right to representation within government.

In high society, the taking of tea evolved into an afternoon repast of small snacks such as cakes, scones and sandwiches, the latter an invention of Lord Sandwich who called for sustenance at the gaming table. In humbler households, tea was accompanied by bread spread with lightly salted dripping or perhaps a home-made preserve.

Cultivation of the plant spread far and wide and is now grown on large plantations in Sri Lanka, India, China, Malaysia and Japan.

Utensils used in the preparation and serving of this refreshing liquid has resulted in the creation of artistic silver and chinaware – kettles, teapots, urns, jugs and delicate cups and saucers, as well as multi-tiered platters grace tables set with fine linen and enhanced by artistic flower arrangements.  The collection at Miegunyah contains several examples of china and silver for tea service. Of particular interest is the copper Russian samovar used for heating water and the hot water kettle resting on a swinging stand, with a spirit heater beneath.

The Perry family business stocked many items for preparing tea and we are fortunate to have in the collection a plated teapot bearing the name of the firm on the underside. Another item stocked by the firm and retained in the household collection is a small wicker picnic hamper which also contained a small kettle, spirit stove for boiling the water and metal containers for the leaf, milk and sugar.

Ah well, it’s 4pm and it has been a busy day. The possums have eaten the parsley again, the brush turkeys have dug out my flowering zygo cactus and the bee colony refuses to relocate into the bee box, so a refreshing cuppa is in order. Care to join me?

Diana Hacker is archivist for the Queensland Women’s Historical Association based at the historic home Miegunyah in Bowen Hills. Tours are available. Visit miegunyah.org