A Mad Tea Party
By Ciera Miller
You’re lost in the Tulgey Wood, a feline keeps taunting you with its gleaming grin, and you just can’t find the white rabbit with the pocket watch that you followed down this rabbit hole. Your stomach grumbles because lunch was forever ago and you only had a sandwich anyways, and dinner is too far away and, did I mention you’re stuck in the woods? Who knows if you’ll even eat food ever again, let alone find your way back home.
Oh Alice, just cross the thicket! It’s tea time!
Alice had just met the Duchess before entering the Mad Tea Party, so it’s only fitting that the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Stanhope, is credited with making afternoon tea popular among the British upper classes in the early nineteenth century. With the emergence of the Industrial Revolution, the mealtimes in England changed so that the main meal was served later in the day. So a few hours after a smaller luncheon, the Duchess would have a “sinking feeling” in her stomach around four o’clock. Aching for a snack and the company of her friends, she would invite the other ladies in waiting to her rooms for tea and a walk in the palace gardens. Loving the Duchess’s idea, other ladies began having tea parties like hers and it spread like wildfire among the rich upper class.
They would have “low” tea. Yes, you read that correctly. “High” tea and “low” tea weren’t distinguished between economic classes. It wasn’t even based off of the time it was had, whether it be more near high noon or when the sun was lower in the sky. It was actually based off how high the chairs and tables were that the ladies would sit in when drinking their teas and eating their crumpets, scones, crustless sandwiches, and so much more.
Although the lower working classes had their own ideas about tea. Theirs was more like the Mad Hatter’s tea time, and probably more fulfilling to the wandering Alice than the small treats the ladies in waiting enjoyed. The working lower class had tea time later in the day, and it was more substantial than biscuits and sweets. A lot of the time, this would double as their dinner because the poorer the family, the less food they had and so, less meals. But what a meal it would be. Mothers served a large pot of strong tea and cold meats, like fried ham, bacon and eggs, cakes and scones and stewed plums and cream, jam and jelly and buttered toast, and it would be ready just in time for the mine and factory workers when they got home from a tremendously long shift. They had their “high” tea at their dinner table in their drawing room, and sometimes even called it “great” or “meat” tea because of the portions.
“It’s always tea time!” the Mad Hatter told Alice because his pocket watch was stuck at six pm, unable to be fixed since he had murdered Time. Which can’t always be a bad thing, especially since today, we have tea time whenever we feel like having tea and a treat.
Tea is wonderful in all its flavors, whether it be green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, or pu erh tea, at all times of day. You can start your day with English Breakfast and end it with chamomile. In the middle, during tea time, spice it up with a bit of chai. Before tea landed on the British Isles, it had traveled from China and India through France, and Madame de Sign had popularized the idea in letters she wrote to her daughter when discussing royal matters and how a certain Marquise de la Sablie initiated adding milk to tea. Adding cream and sugar can either make or break tea, but the English loved adding milk to their tea and immediately adopted this “French touch” for their own tea time.
Alice, when she eventually returned home, most likely had an afternoon tea with Dinah, her loving fur ball of a cat. Her tea was probably chamomile, to help her relax after the miraculous day spent in Wonderland, and she wouldn’t have to worry about a certain mouse peeking its head out of her kettle. But facing the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse in their mad tea party consisting of riddles that didn’t make sense and no tea to be sipped, Alice’s stomach and brain probably hurt more than they were fulfilled. Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Sources: Afternoon and High Tea History, The Food Timeline — Afternoon Tea, A Mad Tea Party, High Tea, Afternoon Tea, Elevenses: English Tea Times for Dummies, The History of Afternoon Tea