TEA TRIVIA: talking about the “Earl” in Grey and the “High in Tea

Tea is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. Half of the world’s population drinks it either hot or cold.

  • Tea was accidentally discovered in 2737 BC when Chinese Emperor Shen Nung found  tea leaves that had blown into a pot of boiling water that produced a pleasing aroma.
  • Tea was introduced to England in 1669. At that time, the drink was enjoyed only by the aristocracy because a pound of tea cost an average British laborer the equivalent of nine months in wages.
English high tea.
  • Afternoon Tea was invented by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. She drank tea as a picker-upper to tide over what she  described as a “sinking feeling” in the afternoon.
  • The “High” in High Tea does not imply fancy, high class or expensive. The word actually refers to the time of day in which tea is served (evening) and that it is served at  a dining room table (high table). High Tea is an evening tea generally served at 5:00 pm or 6:00 pm and features sandwiches, scones, heavy cakes, biscuits and, of course, plenty of tea.

(Please check out Lorna’a Tearoom Delights: an excellent blog about Scottish Tea Houses to whet your appetite about tea traditions still going strong in Scotland today.) 

  • The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor, by Nathaniel Currier: In 1773, colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians threw 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company into Boston harbor. They were protesting a tax on tea and a perceived British monopoly. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS)

    The Boston Tea Party ended America’s liking for both the British and their tea, marked the beginning of the War of Independence, and started America’s coffee-drinking tradition.

  •  It wasn’t until 1905 that the tea plant received its official Latin name, Camellia sinensis.This single plant can be harvested and processed to produce green, white and  black teas.
The 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister of 1830 (read more about him on Wikipedia HERE)
  • Bergemont Orange (Citrus Bergamia) grown in Southern Italy.

    Earl Grey Tea is flavored with the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit. It was named after the second Earl Grey, British Prime Minister 1830-34. Jacksons of Piccadilly claim Lord Grey handed them his recipe, based on an old Chinese version.

Iced Tea was discovered in 1904, at the St. Louis World’s Fair, by a British tea merchant named Richard Blechynden. To boost tea sales in the hot weather he placed iced cubes into his tea and found the beginning of iced tea!  Today 80% of the tea served in the United States is some form of iced tea.

  • New York City tea importer named Thomas Sullivan invented the Tea Bag. He became annoyed at the high cost of the tin boxes he used to send tea samples to customers. So in 1904 (or by some accounts, 1908) he switched to small cloth bags. One of the New York City restaurants that received his “bagged tea” began brewing pots of tea by simply pouring hot water over the bag, and the rest is history.
  •  The UK consumes 165 million cups of tea daily. The average person in the UK will consume around 80,000 cups of tea during their life. The Irish drink more tea per head than any nation in the world. 5 out of 6 North Americans drink tea. Americans prefer black tea over green and oolong and drink over 50 billion cups of tea each year (mostly iced tea-80%).

    More interesting tea facts: courtesy Holland & Barrett
  •  The two most hummed tea songs are “Tea for Two,” from the 1924 Broadway musical No, No, Nanette and “When I Take My Sugar to Tea,” written in 1931 by Sammy Fain  Irving Kahal, and Pierre Norman. (If you want to waste more time than you are doing so already, click on the links to listen to them on YouTube).
  • In Tibet tea is served mixed with salt and rancid yak butter. In Burma (now Myanmar) pickled tea known as Lahpet is eaten.
Vanity license plates on our cars!

You can tell how much I love tea by the vanity license plates on both our cars. The ERL GREY on hubby’s car (left) is a joke. Hubby grew up in England and when he gets hoity-toity I tell him, “Just, who do you do you think you are – Earl Grey?”. He is a coffee drinker! 

Teatime for the Firefly is Shona Patel’s debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.


Tassology: the art of reading tea leaves

The shapes of tea leaves in my cup on February 22nd 2012

Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy or tassology) is a divination or fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves, coffee grounds, or wine sediments.


I am not sure I believe in fortune-telling. I believe we are the product of our intentions and mindfulness. But in great, great, stillness, the subconscious mind can see into the future–not so much as interpret one’s fate but to create a greater awareness and set the sail in the direction of possibilities.  So, with the right mindset (and intentions) tea leaves can be read but for that matter so can clouds and sand. The world is in motion and if one is very still one can get an inkling of the direction of the forces. I am not sure I am entirely there yet in terms of inner development.

I just got back from a meditation workshop so I decided to give tassology a try. I drank my cup of tea in great quiet this morning, then I stared and stared at the shapes in my teacup (above). This is what I saw: a human pyramid!

My interpretation: Person #1 is standing on a rock and reaching out. Person #2 is holding Person#3 (a child) by the foot. The child (Person #3) has the other foot (long foot!) on Person#1’s head!  The child (Person #3)  is also being helped up on a ledge by Person #4 who morphs into a woman (Person #5) in a billowing skirt and a hat who is stepping out holding something (a gift?) in her hands. How very intriguing! Do I believe in any of this? Let’s put it this way, I am not questioning anything. I will keep open mind for now. But I do see hope and people helping me on the path. My guidance for the the day is to have the trust and innocence of a child and to allow others to help me on my journey. Of course, you may not see all (or any) of what I see! Tassology is entirely in the mind  of the beholder.

If you want to learn how to read tea leaves here is a good YouTube video by Amber McCaroll. You can find out more about tassology symbols here.


Layla, the protagonist in my novel “Teatime for the Firefly” is born under an unlucky star but she uses her free will to shape her own destiny. You can read the synopsis and first chapter here.




Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
What is the difference between Green Tea and Black Tea?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?

How is Assam Tea made?

This post details the manufacturing process for Assam Tea. It has been compiled from the notes of Dick Clifford, a veteran Tea Planter who worked for the Jorehaute Company from 1946 and passed away in November 2005 at the age of 83.  Davey Lamont and Roy Church added to it. Many thanks for this very useful information!

Tea pluckers in Assam wear the traditional Assamese sombrero called a "japi" to protect themselves from the harsh sun.

A note about Tea Gardens in Assam

Many people fondly imagine tea plantations in Assam to be a small “tea farm” manned by local farmers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tea plantations (often referred to as “tea gardens”–which is probably why the misconception started) are massive and complex entities autonomously run like mini townships, Each tea garden has its own tea growing area, processing factory, management and labor force, forest land, rice fields, housing, power, water supply and hospital. They are self-contained entities. In the hey days of Assam Tea there were over 1500 tea plantations dotting the Assam valley.


Tractor trailers such as these are used to bring in the green leaves daily from the tea plantation to the factory.

Every stage of tea processing from plucking to final shipment has to be very diligently monitored as this directly affects the quality of tea.

During the second flush (peak growing season in Assam- June to August) the factory runs non stop. The leaf plucked on the day has to be made into black tea within 24 hours and sorted into varying grades within 48.

STEP 1: WITHERING The green leaf comes into the factory twice a day (sometimes three times) and is immediately thinly spread on Hessian cloth placed over wire-mesh racks in what is called the Withering Shed where it stays until it loses some of its moisture content and become flaccid (only 4% moisture remains). During the hot weather this takes around twelve hours which means the factory has to start at midnight or soon thereafter.

Gas fired dryers used in tea garden factories (historical photo courtesy Roy Church)

STEP 2: ROLLING OR CTC The leaf is collected and either rolled in Sirocco machines or, alternatively, put through a CTC machine which simultaneously crushes, tears and curls the leaf it as the process implies.

Davey’s comment:  “The laborers were terrified of the CTC machine back in the days when it was first introduced. The grinding “teeth” were exposed and they could just as easily Cut, Tear and Curl a few fingers along with the tea leaves!”

STEP 3: FERMENTING The mashed up tea leaves are thinly spread at a one-inch depth on trays to ferment and become oxidized and let its own juices interact. This process has to be closely watched and it takes an experienced tea planter to decide the optimum time required which varies from an hour to two or more, depending on the ambient conditions prevailing.

Rolling tables (historical photo courtesy Roy Church)

STEP 3:DRYING Then the tea is taken to the drying machines and spread thinly on the trays through which hot air is blown so as to extract the remaining moisture in the leaf. The end result is the black tea which one buys in the supermarkets . If the tea still has too much moisture left, it goes through the drying process again but care has to be taken not to scorch the end product. The finished tea is sent to the sorting room.

STEP 4: SORTING This is a mechanical process where the tea is fed on conveyors and passed through vibrating wire-mesh trays of varying mesh, the dust coming  through to the bottom. After sorting, the tea is packed in tea chests made of plywood lined with aluminium foil (to preserve flavor) and shipped by train or river steamer to Calcutta and then onwards to London. Prices for teas from different tea gardens were published and carefully monitored and there was much rivalry among Assam tea planters to see who was heading the listing. Tea planters were also paid a commission on profits so the the incentive to produce more and better teas was certainly not absent. Their existence depended on it.

Virtually all tea was sold on the London Market, through the Mincing Lane Tea Auctions, till the end of the 1960s. Only second grade tea was sold in India up till then, but the Indian Govt saw the possibilities of a full-blown Calcutta tea market and consequent income of foreign exchange. Once they had the organisation going, with purely Indian run Auction Houses, any U.K. importer had to purchase his teas in Calcutta and pay in sterling. This pertains to this day and 95% of the industry is Indian owned, the old U.K. firms having sold out to Indians.

BUNGALOW TEA: Roy Church talks about the special perks of being a Tea Planter. In the 1960’s it was customary for each tea garden to make a small quantity of special tea each year and to distribute one chest each to the estate Manager, the garden Assistant Manager and the factory Engineer. When the day came to make the “bungalow tea”, the garden assistant would employ the most skilled women to pick leaf from the best sections or even individual bushes. The leaf would be plucked extraordinarily fine; either pure tip or ‘one and a bud’. The women were paid special rates as such fine plucking would have been impossible at normal piecework rates. Dependant upon the personal taste of the Manager the leaf would be manufactured either orthodox or CTC style. This batch of leaf was manufactured before all the remainder of the day’s plucking so that it received the optimum manufacturing conditions and also so it could be kept entirely separate from the remaining manufacture. A spotless area in the sorting room of the factory would be set aside for the tea where it was sorted entirely by hand – even to the extent of using woollen blankets to further separate the fine tip. Very often the tea was so ‘tippy’ as to more resemble tobacco than tea!

(If you spot and error or an omission please send me a private comment HERE. Thanks!)

Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
What is the difference between Green Tea and Black Tea?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?

Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE.  She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

Ahhh….morning tea!

Morning tea in my Bodum teapot. It brews and pours perfectly. And nothing goes better with a cup of strong Assam Tea than good old Marie (perfect for dunking) Biscuits!

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.

I drink a lot of tea. Sometimes as much as 5 to 6 cups a day – fully loaded, full-bodied CTC Assam with milk and sugar. These are moments in my day when time ticks slower and the soul lets out sigh: life becomes pondering moments. I see a miniscule fly stretch its gossamer wing to capture a sun diamond in its tip and notice the ocotillo cactus outside my window has just sprung a new bud. Tea times are quiet times in my day, a small stretch that helps me level out before I head back to the computer or rush off to a meeting.

Tea times are social times too. There are things you would tell a friend over a cup of tea, you would never tell otherwise. Tea talk is soul talk. All my friends say I remind them of teatime. Anitra my friend swears she has a Pavlovian reflex to put the kettle on every time I call her. In my childhood, the kettle hissed, teacups tinkled and the doorbell rang almost without stop.

If I am caffeine-buzzed all the time, I just don’t know it. I sleep like a baby at night and sometimes the last thing I drink before I go to bed is a cup of tea. Can I live without tea? Probably. I have gone for days without drinking tea and had no murderous thought towards another human being. I just missed it, like you would an old familiar friend. Now, would I ever drink decaf? Never. Not in a hundred years. Why? Because it tastes butt ugggg-ly, that’s why!! Same reason why I won’t eat low-fat or funny foods that pretend to be bacon. As for decaf being better for you? Haha! Please CLICK HERE if you want to be shocked and/or enlightened on the subject.

As I sit here with my second cup this morning, the sun peeps over a big jagged rock and paints my patio with a  swath of gold. I think to myself, La Dolce Vita. ‘Tis a sweet life indeed.

Tea talk on Tea Buddy
What is Assam Tea?
Types of Assam tea: ORTHODOX & CTC
How is Assam Tea Made?
Is global warming changing the flavor of Assam Tea?

My debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is set in a tea plantation in 1940’s Assam India. You can read more about it HERE. Please give me your feedback! Thanks.

I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.