I was rather excited by the prospect of being invited for High Tea at Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore. Admittedly it was a work-related event followed by High Tea. For all these years, I wondered how I managed to avoid having High Tea in the sub-continent, considering this old colonial legacy still lingers on in a reformatted and repackaged form of eating in between lunch and dinner. Moreover, it is often associated with ladies of leisure spending a lazy afternoon socialising and chatting away. What was more enticing for me was the concept of High Tea itself rather than the food because I suspected that being in Pakistan, the delicacies presented were not going to be light finger food. Indeed it was a buffet-style meal consisting of chicken drumsticks, chicken kebabs, channa (chickpeas), chicken sandwiches, cream cakes and of course tea. Although Pakistan produces some tea, it is in fact the third largest importer of tea in the world. Hugely popular in cities like Lahore, it is difficult to imagine a day with a cup of tea.
The English High Tea usually had some form of bread (sandwiches), vegetables, cheese, sometimes meat but always tea. It was considered an essential part of eighteenth and nineteenth century meal times, providing another opportunity for social gatherings amongst the upper classes. It was also easy to prepare in case their servants were not around. Thus, a practical solution for those late afternoon moments, when the evening meal was served around 8 pm. Today, High Tea is more popularly referred to as Afternoon Tea and is often marketed at the tourists (foreign or local) looking for that quintessential tea and scone moments in small “English” tea shops.
During the expansive years of British colonial rule, tea drinking became a must have beverage for the upper classes, a beverage which was too expensive for the working classes because of the heavy import taxes. By the nineteenth century, these taxes declined and of course, tea drinking starts to spread to become an essential part of our daily routine. Today the UK stands as fifth largest consumers of tea per capita. The demand for the commodity is what motivated the British to start tea production in India, where it was initially only consumed largely by Anglicised Indians. It was later during the 1920s, through extensive marketing by the Tea Board that the Indians start to consume tea. Today of course India is the largest producer of tea in the world, yet it only ranks 44th in terms of consumption per capita.
For many us, a morning or afternoon is not complete without that cup of tea, a cheap simple drink which hides so many stories. It is amazing that tea, due to being so expensive, was often locked up and key was kept by the lady of the house. Now it is one of the most common beverages around the world and only recently has it been challenged by the pervasiveness of coffee in some parts of the world.
A fascinating history of the Early Victorian Tea Set
‘In Britain between 1840 and 1900 the consumption of tea and sugar quadrupled. Mass consumption required mass production on an industrial scale and huge tea plantations were developed by the British in India and Sri Lanka. New sources of sugar were also developed, reducing the role of the former slave plantations in the Caribbean. Tea drinking was regarded as patriotic as it supported British trade and empire, unlike wine and coffee, beverages of imperial rivals.’
Read more about this history of the world through objects: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/FWYgWOCSSpKKuF3pctC6tA
A brief history of ‘taking tea,’ http://www.highteasociety.com/history/