When I was a child, the drink everybody drank was tea. There was hardly any coffee around in the 1950s, not where I lived, anyway. Children drank milk (warmed in winter, cold in summer), orange squash or weak tea with occasionally cocoa, Horlicks or Ovaltine at bedtime. Adults drank tea (most of them took sugar in it, unlike now) and sometimes a warm milky drink at night. People didn’t drink water the way they do now. In cafes and restaurants you were never offered water with your food and many would refuse if you asked for a glass of tap water. We knew nothing about caffeine or about the importance of keeping your body hydrated. This post focuses on just tea, that quintessentially British drink. I really fancied using the word quintessentially, for some reason!

The Tea we Drank.

There were no tea bags then and very few brands to choose from. Tea leaves were the only form the tea came in. I remember Broooke Bond being around and in some grocery shops you could buy loose tea weighed out on scales. Once home, you transferred your loose tea to a tea caddy. Green, decaffeinated, herbal varieties etc. didn’t exist.

The Tea Pots we Used.

Of course, loose tea can’t be made in the cup so we all used teapots. Stainless steel ones didn’t come on the scene until the mid sixties. The everyday family teapot was a sturdy earthenware one, usually dark brown. When anyone came to visit a more decorative china pot would be brought out, often part of a ‘tea set’. A lot of people had a very best set which had usually been given as a wedding present and which never left the glass-fronted china cabinet.

Cups and Saucers

It’s hard to believe now, but nobody drank out of mugs in the 1950s. Every hot drink was drunk out of a cup and saucer. Everyday ones were fairly robust, best ones prettier and more fragile. I have a lovely tea set from the 1920s which was my grandmother’s.

Other Essential Equipment

In addition to the ubiquitous teapot, everyone needed tea strainers to filter out the leaves. As with the pots, there were plain everyday ones and fancier ‘best’ ones. Tea cosies were essential for keeping the tea warm while it brewed in the pot for the standard three minutes. Tea caddies stored the loose tea leaves and there were special little scoops for measuring out the right amount of tea into the pot.

Credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. As always, I have endeavored not to infringe copyright. However, if anyone objects to my use of an image, please contact me and I will remove it.

25 thoughts on “Tea

    • Camp Coffee, with its label depicting a British officer seated outside his tent and being waited on by a rather grandly dressed Indian servant, was actually chicory – although we called it “coffee.” Still available today, though the figures on the label, while still exactly the same, are now seated beside each other.

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  1. Can remember a few years ago we were in a “Traditional Tea shop” having ordered “Afternoon Tea which came with a pot of tea spot of boiling water and a tea strainer The people at an adjoining table studied us carefully,turned out they had never encountered a tea strainer before,they were fascinated 😊

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  2. Ah yes, the ubiquitous ‘brown betty’ teapot that we all had back in the day.
    As for making tea in the cup, what about infusers? My wife had one like 2 spring loaded teaspoons with holes in that you filled with loose tea and placed in the cup till it was brewed. Her nan had a cute one shaped like a miniature kettle!

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  3. Hi, I enjoyed your post of the tea and the tea pots, of the 1950’s, I never had tea made from a teapot in the States, in the 50’s. I do remember my Sisters would always make and drink tea made with tea bags, mostly Lipton tea bags. And my Father and Mother would drink instant coffee or percolated coffee, and most of my relatives did at the time. A great post on customs!

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  4. Hi Meryl. Fascinating as usual. Your entries bring back so many memories, it’s unbelievable. Thank you. Ovaltine, now there’s a thing . There was a “supporting group” and even a song. We are the Ovaltinies, little girls and boys ( can’t remember the rest ! ).
    The first tea mug I ever saw was one used by an uncle who, habitually, drank tea from a pint sized white mug. He was a guard on the railway and I somehow suspect a connection ( sorry!) with restricted opportunities for a brew were the reasons that led to provisioning in excess.
    Dehydration, now there’s a thing too ! Cross country running at boys school. “Off you go ” was the cry, no topping up beforehand or carrying fancy containers. That said I think Barnsley Grammar School simply counted them out and counted them back in , with no apparent losses over the years!
    All best, take care. John

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  5. So many parallels in Australia. Don’t think I used a tea-bag until the 80s. Still have my mother-in-law’s tea set, and silver teapot [Mum’s] and milk-jug [Grandmother’s]. Still use Australia’s iconic brand from my childhood, ‘Bushells the Tea of Flavour.’

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  6. Brooke Bond Dividend was the tea of choice in our home and, it seems to me now, changing brands was frowned upon. One teaspoon per person and one for the pot was the order of the day in many homes, though not in ours. And the tea cosey, strainer and base to sit the strainer on were absolute necessities.
    Watching period films these days, I am amazed how frequently tea is offered (and accepted) by the characters.

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  7. First, I hope you don’t mind all these comments. I’m just spending a lovely hour or so reading your blog as, for a change, I’ve nothing else to do! I’ll stop soon and give you a break!

    I agree that there were no mugs used for tea in people’s homes in the fifties, people always used cups, and they had to have saucers. We always had tea-strainers, mostly of the metal with a few holes, variety. However, as for type of tea… my dad had a thing for collecting Twinings teas – in their rather fancy tins – and they’d be put on top of a kitchen cupboard and there they stayed, never used! Daily, though, it was whatever was to hand.

    My mum and dad never had a tea-cosy. My friends’ parents used them, but not us. Not sure why.

    Always milk and sugar. I often wonder how much caffeine my parents used to take in each day and what effect it must’ve had on them. Dad, in particular, used to drink it like there was no tomorrow! Both were overweight, so I expect the sugar played a part in that, too. No diabetes in my family, though, despite all that.

    Apart from tea, our bedtime drink was Horlicks. And sometimes, if I was ill, my dad would make me hot milk with a knob of butter put into it to ‘coat the throat’! I always find it odd that my mum never made it for me, just dad.

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