Cultural cuppa

18:56, Jul 31 2011
Tea drinking in New Zealand has changed over the years. Instead of pouring tea from a special pot into bone-china cups with saucers, most cuppas are made from teabags dropped into mugs filled with boiling water. Discussing the cultural changes of our former national drink are Spring Creek Anglican vicar Derek Harding and Blenheim women from left, Alison Kennedy, Margery Rickerby and Pam Shattock

It was virtually a national pastime not so many years ago.

Tea drinking, and the ritual of morning and afternoon tea, is sliding into memory for many of us. But not so long ago kids were drinking tea almost as soon as they could walk.

Alison Kennedy grew up in Ettrick, Central Otago, and remembers being introduced to tea by receiving a splash of it in her cups of milk. The splashes grew larger as she grew older until she was enjoying tea at full strength in her teens.

Alison is joining the Saturday Express for tea to talk about the tradition.

"Milk in first or you'll break the cup," Derek Harding warns his host Pam Shattock before she pours his tea.

The teapot and cup in question have been hand-painted by Pam, a ceramic artist, so she probably understands their fragility.


She has invited Derek and two friends, Alison Kennedy and Margery Rickerby, to afternoon tea, so tea-drinking traditions can be discussed in Blenheim.

The discussion has been prompted by a survey conducted by the Choysa Tea Company. It found tea is typically served these days in mugs and drunk in casual settings. Pam has agreed to arrange a more formal affair.

Freshly brewed english breakfast tea fills a tall, elegant china teapot. A matching milk jug and sugar jar sit beside it on a lace-covered table. Another beautifully polished pot holds hot water for guests who like weak tea.

The setting is completed with china plates bearing cucumber sandwiches (white-bread ones with the crusts cut off), squares of raspberry slice, fruit, neenish tarts and sweets.

Derek, a vicar with the Anglican church at Spring Creek, grew up in England and says tea-drinking traditions there differ between regions, social classes, town and country folk.

Sedentary classes might have "breakfast" tea with their first meal of the day, an "english" tea for "elevenses" (morning tea), then maybe an "earl grey" as afternoon tea.

His grandfather, a cow-hand, filled a large churn with hot tea and milk at breakfast time.

He poured from it throughout the day, even though it grew cold, for his mid-morning cuppa, a 3pm main meal, and another drink at 5pm before going back out to milk the cows.

There was only one flavour of tea in earlier years, Pam says.

Margery confides she is not a huge tea or coffee drinker but looks forward to the brew her church serves after its 10am service on Sundays. Then she looks at Derek and says it helps her warm up because the church is quite cold at this time of the year. When she was growing up, the kettle was boiled on Sundays for her family to enjoy a cup of tea together in the drawing room – an area of the house out of bounds on other days of the week.

According to the Choysa survey, New Zealand homes typically had a special room where guests who called were served a cup of tea. In 2011, just 13 per cent of households have such a room.

Perhaps that reflects the growing cafe culture.

Coffee is the main beverage sold these days but most premises stock a range of teas and a cafe in Ward still retains its original name: Flaxmere Tearooms.

Manager Deirdre Hole says tea is popular with many older customers and varieties they can order include english breakfast, peppermint, rosehip and ginger.

All teas are served in pots with an accompanying jug of hot water so customers can pour the blend they like the best into the tearoom's china teacups.

Tea, which tastes nicer in china cups, is served in cups the right size, says Deirdre, who moved to Ward from England three years ago.

Tea made from loose tea leaves is better, too, she says, although bags are easier to handle at the tearooms.

The Marlborough Express