It’s so easy to assess others based on little clues. Do you look down on people who make tea using a microwave, or use their tea bag a second time? These are verboten in the tea purist’s world, but most people do these things at some time in their lives.
In British literature (one of my favorite amusements), three passages come to mind that describe how the making of tea can reveal people’s characters and level of competence. Two of the characters in these passages are upper class; the other two are lower class. In each pair, one is competent, and the other is not. Apologies for using others’ words so much, but they say it so well!
In E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End, two sisters and a younger brother share a house. They are independently wealthy, but the sisters have just had an encounter with a poor man. Tibby, the brother, is very intelligent, but aimless, and completely uninterested in the man. “He warmed the teapot—almost too deftly—rejected the Orange Pekoe that the parlor maid had provided, poured in five spoonfuls of a superior blend, filled up with really boiling water, and called to [his sisters] to be quick or they would lose the aroma. ‘All right, Auntie Tibby,’ called Helen, while Margaret, thoughtful again, said: ‘In a way, I wish we had a real boy in the house—the kind of boy who cares for men. It would make entertaining so much easier.’ ‘So do I,” said her sister. ‘Tibby only cares for cultured females singing Brahms.’”
In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, the wealthy and titled Lady Angkatell is kind and amiable, but lives in her own world. When she eyes a kettle and gas ring early in the morning, she is inspired to make tea for one of her weekend guests. “She put the kettle on and then went on down the passage…Lady Angkatell went on into her own room…She stood by her open window, looking out for a moment or two, then she yawned. She got into bed, laid her head on the pillow and in two minutes was sleeping like a child. In the bathroom the kettle came to the boil and went on boiling… ‘Another kettle gone, Mr. Gudgeon,’ said Simmons, the housemaid. Gudgeon, the butler, shook his grey head. He took the burnt-out kettle from Simmons, and, going into the pantry, produced another kettle from the bottom of the cupboard where he had a stock of half a dozen. ‘There you are, Miss Simmons. Her ladyship will never know.’”
Ms. Christie’s Pocket Full of Rye describes a more prosaic stratum of society, in which an office administrator looks down on a typist. “It was Miss Somers’ turn to make the tea. Miss Somers was the newest and most inefficient of the typists. She was no longer young and had a mild worried face like a sheep. The kettle was not quite boiling when Miss Somers poured the water onto the tea, but poor Miss Somers was never quite sure when a kettle was boiling. It was one of the many worries that affected her life. She poured out the tea and took the cups round with a couple of limp sweet biscuits in each saucer. Miss Griffith, the efficient head typist, a gray-haired martinet who had been with Consolidated Investments Trust for sixteen years, said sharply: ‘Water not boiling again, Miss Somers!’ and Miss Somers’ worried meek face went pink and she said, ‘Oh dear, I did think it was boiling this time.’ Miss Griffith thought to herself: ‘She’ll last for another month, perhaps, just while we’re so busy…But really! The mess the silly idiot made of that letter to Eastern Developments…and the biscuit tin wasn’t shut tightly last time, either.’”
I’m an unabashed microwave user who will fully admit that using a teapot is better. I generally do remember to close the cookie containers tightly. So what does this say about me, and you? Have fun observing!