Afternoon Tea

By Ben Johnson

Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively new tradition. Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, it was not until the mid 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.


Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (including of course thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches), scones served with clotted cream and preserves. Cakes and pastries are also served. Tea grown in India or Ceylon is poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.

Nowadays however, in the average suburban home, afternoon tea is likely to be just a biscuit or small cake and a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag. Sacrilege!

Jasmine Dragon Pearl Tea

The history of this tea is more than 800 years old. According to a legend, once upon a time, a brother and a sister lived on the outskirts of a small village near the Fuzhou city of Fujian Province. Their parents died and poor children worked very hard to get enough food to live by. One winter, brother got very seriously sick and no doctors could help him. Then, one old woman told his sister about a magic dragon who was always helping people in need. The girl decided to find a dragon and, leaving her brother under the old lady’s care, left home looking for him. She wandered for a long time and finally she came to his cave which was surrounded by the jasmine bushes of amazing beauty. She told the dragon about her problem and he promised to help her, saying that the recovery for her brother wouldn’t be easy. Soaring into the sky, the dragon made an ominous cry and a beautiful pearl appeared on his neck, glittering on the sun. A small drop fell from the pearl and onto the ground, where a beautiful tea bush sprouted and started immediately growing. Dragon said to the girl that she should take care of the bush and disappeared. It rained hard the whole day but the girl looked after the bush not leaving its side even for a moment. Finally, small long leaves appeared on the bush. The girl gathered from the most delicate leaves from the top of each branch, dried them next to jasmine flowers, and made delicate beads, like the one that hung around the neck of a dragon. Returning home, she brewed some tea from this magical leaves and their house was filled with the wonderful aroma of jasmine. Having tasted the miracle drink, her brother quickly recovered. Since then, this old legend about the power of a magical dragon and a beautiful pearl is told and re-told amount Chinese families.

White Tea

According to legend, the white tea tree was discovered by a girl named Langu from Fuding county in Fujian, China where the beautiful Taimu Mountain is located. Originally, this mountain was known as “Mt. Caishan”, and Langu, a very kind and benevolent person, lived in its foothills. While taking refuge in a cave on the mountain, Langu discovered a special tea tree whose young buds were covered with silvery hair during spring. When widespread epidemic outbroke in the village, she used the very special tea buds and the leaves from this special tree to cure the disease. As legend has it, Langu lived a long life and achieved immortality for her good deeds. It is said that she ascended to heaven riding a nine-colour dragon-horse on July 7th of the moon calendar. Since that time, Langu has been looked upon as a goddess (“Taimu”, meaning, pre-grandmother). Yaodi (Emperor in legend) felt indebted for her help, and changed Mt. Caishan’s name to Mt. Taimushan (Taimu Mountain).  Today, Taimu Mountain is the famous area of white tea production in Fuding (see also, the Legend of Silver Needle white tea).

Ovid’s Ode

“The Healthy Food Series” is the most popular series written by Alexandra Lopatina and Maria Skrebtsova.Contents of the book “THE MAGIC GRAIN”


“Ovid, have you fallen sleep, or are you writing poetry again?” shouted the angry vineyard owner as he approached the curly-haired young man. The youth was startled, and began to attack the earth furiously with his rake.

“What use are my poems when I’ve had to leave school to feed my elderly parents?” he though with sadness.

The owner hurried over to where the young man was standing.

“There is something to be gained from your poetry,” said the vineyard owner in a much friendlier tone. “The Emperor Titus has announced a poetry competition to mark his son’s birthday. Write some verses for the competition and you could win some money.”

That night, Ovid went out into the yard to write verses by moonlight. He tried several times to begin writing, but he felt so tired that could not keep his eyes open..

The depressed young man went out into the vineyard the following morning and heard a terrifying howl. He rushed over to investigate and, as he reached the edge of the field, a carriage sped past. As the carriage was flying around the corner, a dog had fallen from the side, and was now lying in the road. The animal’s paw was broken and it had a large wound down its side.

“The poor little devil. I’d better give it a wash,” decided Ovid. After moving the dog into the shade, he washed its wounds thoroughly, and made a splint for its paw out of two sticks.

“Looks like you’re a thoroughbred,” observed the young man, examining the astonishing collar around the dog’s neck. Ovid looked after the dog at the vineyard for the next week. He took it to the spring to drink, and shared his modest dinner with the animal. At the end of the week, a wealthy man, dressed in fabulously ornate clothing, came galloping through the vineyard. It was the dog’s owner.

“As I was passing through your village, I lost my precious dog. I was told that you…”

The man never finished his sentence. From behind some bushes the rescued dog appeared, limping. With a squeal of delight, it rushed towards the stranger. As the man turned to leave, he handed a small wooden chest to the young man.

“Please take this as a reward for rescuing my dog,” explained the stranger. “What is inside this box is more valuable than money.”

The young man’s parents were delighted when they heard about the rich stranger’s gift. However, their delight turned to disappointment when they saw what was inside the box – a strange-looking, fragrant plant.

“Don’t worry,” said Ovid, removing a folded piece of parchment from the bottom of the chest. “There’s something written here.”

He unfolded the parchment and examined it. Here is what he saw:

In order to make the Drink of the Gods, follow these instructions:

  1. “The white crane washes its head” (rinse out a teapot with boiling water)
  2. “The bodhisattva enters the palace” (place the tea leaves in the teapot)
  3. “The stream heats the teapot” (fill the teapot with boiling water)
  4. “The spring wind brushes the face” (carefully remove the foam from the surface)
  5. “The gatekeeper patrols the fortress” (pour the tea into a cup, then pour it back into the teapot; leave to stand for one minute)
  6. “The general selects his weapon” (pour the tea into the cups)
  7. “Be enchanted by the colour of the infusion” (appreciate the colour of the liquid)
  8. “Savour the sweet nectar” (drink the tea and enjoy its taste and aroma)

Ovid did his best to follow the instructions recorded on the parchment. Instead of a teapot, he had to use an old pan, which he cleaned thoroughly and filled with fresh spring water.

After drinking the aromatic tea, Ovid’s parents went to sleep. The young man himself felt alert and clear-headed. It was as if his thoughts were forming themselves into verses. His ode to the emperor’s son was finished in three days. The young man copied his verses neatly onto the piece of parchment and prepared to make the journey to the capital.

“Mother, I will return in one week. I hope you will manage without me,” he said, sounding worried.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “I am going to bake some flat cakes with the flour you earned for your work at the vineyard. Your father is now drinking your wonderful tea instead of medicine: his headaches have gone, his memory has returned and his stomach pains have even calmed down.”

Exactly one week later, the dusty figure of Ovid appeared on the horizon. His mother rushed out to meet him. Suddenly she saw royal guards appear, seemingly from nowhere, and grab her son, bundle him into a carriage and take him away.

It was as if a black cloud has settled over the poor little hut. The young man was just as concerned as his parents.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked the guard a dozen times. The guard did not reply.

To Ovid’s great consternation, the carriage was approaching the emperor’s palace. The Great Emperor Titus had demanded to see the young man himself. When he caught sight of Ovid, he seemed surprised.

“So it was you, a young farm worker dressed in rags, who dedicated those magnificent verses to my son.”

“Your majesty, any clothing would be turned to rags if it were subjected to many long hours of manual labour. Fortunately, a healthy mind does not require clean clothing,” replied Ovid, bowing before the emperor.

“An excellent answer!” said the emperor with a smile. “Tell me, what were those strange lines written on the reverse of the parchment about the ‘drink of the gods’?”

“Your highness, those lines were written by a wise stranger, who grew the leaves which make this drink. It is called tea. When I drank this tea, my thoughts were clearer and my mood calmer.”

Ovid went on to tell Titus the story of how he obtained the wonderful gift. The two talked for a long time. The emperor was so impressed with the young man that he appointed him his royal poet, and tea soon became the favourite drink of Titus’ court. The young man wrote countless magnificent poems, and the very best were those which described the mystical benefits of tea.