In yesterday's blog post we looked at some of the cozy mystery books set in English villages, which got me noticing some common themes you might find in a British cozy mystery (this month's free cozy mystery collection has lots of British books to download and is our topic for May 2019). One of those themes was tea, or more specifically tea shops or afternoon tea. Funnily enough, a decent cup of tea is the first thing that I miss whenever I visit a new country and I can see why it is associated with Brits and why we have such an obsession with it.
Afternoon Tea, London, and the Victorian Era
But I also have favourite places to enjoy a cuppa depending where I am, and how much spare change I might have. One of my go to places when I'm in London is the Grosvenor Hotel. I discovered this haunt many years ago after my train was cancelled at London Victoria Station and the toilets that you have to pay 20p to use were closed for cleaning. Busting for a pee, I noticed some old wooden doors along a long stone wall, and decided to see where they led. It was incredible to go from the noise and thick black smog and fumes of the railway platform of London Victoria Station, up a grand wooden staircase and to suddenly find myself in the plush-carpeted lobby of a stunning Grade II listed Victorian building, built in 1862.
It was one of those moments where you wait for a hand on your shoulder, to escort you from the premises for trespassing. Me in my shorts and t-shirt with a backpack having travelled from Europe by coach over a couple of days, and being met by a man who looked like a butler in his smart black suit and crisp white shirt. At which point I was whisked into a large room with chandeliers and comfortable furniture and before I knew it, was sat enjoying perfectly shaped cucumber sandwiches and drinking tea from a china pot! From that moment on, whenever my train was delayed or I found myself killing time between meetings or catching coaches, or meeting people to talk business, the Grosvenor Hotel became my go to place in London. Never have I been so excited as when my train is delayed - especially since you then become eligible for a refund on your ticket as compensation! My little slice of paradise. I can totally see why tea shops, afternoon tea, and Victorian things might end up as themes in a British cozy mystery book!
Tea Drinking and Types of Tea
Before tea, Britain was a nation of coffee drinkers, and the reason for Twinings being based at the Strand is because of the proximity to the coffee houses (men only) where the legal and business people of London would have their meetings and make important investment decisions. It was actually a Portuguese princess who first brought tea to Britain, and at that time tea was like gold dust - locked up in a tiny box, taken out for her to enjoy with her maids. Tea must have seemed even more important to that princess, given that people mainly drank ale at that time, and on arrival in Britain and after stepping off the ship, that was the first thing that was offered to her. Drunk instead of water, because water wasn't so clean back then and would make you pretty sick.
When other ladies in high society began to see the princess drinking tea, a new trend started, and over a long period of time, began to spread to the different fancy houses throughout Britain. Each house having its own special blend, chosen by the lady of the house - so it could be enjoyed in the comfort of one's own home. That is how we came to have 'Earl Grey' tea (after the Prime Minister Charles Grey in 1830 - he liked a hint of bergamot in his blend) and 'Lady Grey' tea (created for the Nordic market in the 1990s because they were less keen on Earl Grey, and it had the addition of orange and lemon). If you visited the Grey's home and happened to have tea with them and liked the blend they had, then the next time that the Twinings representative came to your house to deliver your tea leaves, you could ask them to make up the blend that you had at the home you had visited. There's a lot more complicated history where tea is involved, many themed perfectly for cozy mysteries - Boston tea party, Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter's tea party, tea tax...oh for more writing time:)
I suppose, in a way, you could say that women were responsible for the rise of tea drinking in Britain, the men tending to drink coffee. Growing up, I had tea drinking great aunts who got me hooked right from when I was a baby (laced with sugar and milk and served in a pink Tommee Tippee beaker with a lid! No doubt purchased from Boots or Woolworths), and as I grew up, there was no such thing as Starbucks or coffee houses on the corner of every street. Tea was always drunk at home, up until the 80s I suppose, when McDonalds and coffee shops became a thing in Britain, and the nation began to enjoy coffee again. It always makes me laugh to think of my grandparents and how excited they seemed to be to order a cup of coffee as if it was some brand new, unusual thing to do. People didn't go out to coffee shops when they were growing up, so they really seemed to embrace this in their retirement years or after a meal at a pub or on a cruise holiday with Saga.
Tea is like blood for a Brit like me, it runs through my veins. Tea with milk of course! Milk or tea first is an ongoing and important case for debate, as is the shade of the tea. During the Victorian era, the British army soldiers would use tea to stain their white pith helmets - to help camouflage themselves against the enemy. Then in World War I soldiers were given tea as part of their daily rations, to help boost morale in the trenches. The tea was just what they needed to conceal the horrid taste of water supplies that had been transported in old tin petrol cans.
I'd love to write a cozy mystery set in the 300 year old Twinings store one day. It was an incredible place to visit, with so many jars of wonderful looking and smelling teas. It's the narrowest shop in Britain, and even has its own resident ghost.....just perfect for a paranormal cozy! Do visit it, if you ever get the opportunity on a trip to London. But make sure you have room for all the teas and coffees you find yourself sampling and buying! I'd love to have my own blend of tea one day. That's definitely one for the bucket list.
Other Common Themes in British Cozy Mysteries
I've tried to compile a list of themes that I have spotted in British cozy mysteries, but I'm sure there are more to add: