Several years ago, I was drafted into writing a skit about tea for a ladies’ luncheon and a women’s retreat. I was just cleaning up a flash-drive, and found the final script. If nothing else, it’s good for a laugh! But do enjoy with a cup of tea!
SKIT ~ INTRODUCTION
- Lizzie Lipton, the Countess Grey (wife of the Earl Grey) – a lady of a lower class background, who aspires to be accepted in the most elite circles. It is rumored that the Earl married her, despite her background, for her sense of humor.
- India, the Duchess of Pekoe – both the daughter and the wife of a duke, India has always moved among the haute ton of England. Despite the differences in their background, India has always accepted Lizzie as a friend, if occasionally trying to smooth over some of Lizzie’s rough edges.
- The Duchess’s morning room, at an unfashionably early hour for social calls. The Duchess is sitting enjoying a cup of tea. Lizzie enters unannounced
-India- My dear countess, what in the world brings you here at this unearthly hour? Why, it’s barely even noon!
-Lizzie- (a la Eliza Doolittle) HOW do you do, your grace, do forgive the interruption, but I am simply desperate for your help. Desperate, I say!
-India, sighing- Then, perhaps, Lizzie, you had best sit down, and tell me how I may be of assistance.
-Lizzie- My husband, Earl Grey, has put me into a dreadful position! It’s awful! I shall be a social outcast! A laughingstock… a
-India- interrupting – Lady Grey, stop at once! Really, sometimes you forget your position! Sit calmly, allow me to drink my tea, and tell me what is happening. And dear Lizzie, please remember – a lady is never flustered!
-Lizzie- takes a deep breath, sits down. – I do beg your pardon. The Earl has invited several of the wives of his hunting friends to tea. THAT’S what is happening. I’m ruined!
-India- I don’t see how having ladies to tea can lead to your ruin, countess.
-Lizzie- That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t know ANYTHING about tea.
-India- But my dear, whatever do you mean? You drink tea all the time.
-Lizzie- Yes, my dear duchess, but I know nothing about tea, or its history, or even the proper way to serve it! I just throw a tea bag in a cup of water, and voila! Tea. My husband, the Earl Grey, cringes every time. You simply must help me. After all, you ARE the Duchess of Pekoe!
-India- Oh. I see. Well, yes I DO know a lot about tea; I am, as you say, the Duchess of Pekoe. Some of my ancestors founded the English East India Company, which held the monopoly on imported Indian tea for years! Tell me, Lizzie, first of all, what time of day is the tea party?
-Lizzie- Does it matter?
-India- oh yes, it all depends on the timing. For instance, you would never serve steak-and-kidney pie at a proper afternoon tea. THAT’s something the lower classes would serve for their so-called “high tea” which is really nothing more than supper! Disgusting!
-Lizzie- Oh. Dear. And I do so love a steak-and-kidney pie!
-India- My dear Lizzie, do remember that you are a countess now! So, let us say you will invite them to come mid-afternoon- I think that 4:00 should be ideal. No one should stay past 7 pm – that would be simply outrageous! You may wish to have either a light tea, with scones, and jam, or a cream tea, with scones, jam and clotted cream, or my personal preference, a full tea which will include your savories.
-India- Yes, dear, you know, cucumber or cress sandwiches, vol-au-vents, that sort of thing. Now, do you remember how to brew your tea correctly?
-Lizzie- (Finally feeling confident!) Well, I take the tea bag and…
-India-(Shocked) Lizzie! All right, let’s go over it again. Perhaps you should serve only one type of tea. Naturally, I prefer to serve a nice Indian pekoe black tea. You will have a large kettle on the fire with boiling water, of course – Have your butler place the tea service on a low table near your chair, like this – your best tea pot, your tea, sugar with a silver sugar spoon, a small creamer with milk NOT cream, a small bowl with very thin lemon slices and a silver fork, the slop bowl, your absolute best tea cups….
-Lizzie- (looking quite bemused) – Really?
-India (continuing without pause) – you will warm your teapot with a small amount of hot water, and pour it out into the slop bowl. You must place only as much tea in the pot as you will be serving – 1 teaspoon for each 6 ounces of water. Add the water at the correct temperature- 190 degrees for the black, and steep it for the proper time.
-Lizzie (faintly) – time?
-India- I prefer 2 and a half minutes for the black tea. Remember NEVER resteep the black tea – it will be simply undrinkable.
-Lizzie- Undrinkable. (Nodding but looking dazed) Well, I… uh…. That is… I think… Truly, your grace, I thank you, but I simply must dash. It has been –well- um, enlightening. (Rushes out in relief) Oh, my! I think I’ll just stick to my tea bag!
Now, you may be like Lizzie Lipton, and terrified of being able to get tea quite right, but contrary to what the Duchess of Pekoe says, it’s all quite simple, and merely requires a little care.
Tea the most widely enjoyed beverages around the world, next to water, and the second cheapest per serving. According to Mary Lou and Robert J Heiss, in The Story of Tea, “purchase the best tea that you can afford, as often as necessary to provide convenience to you and to freshen your larder.” While all tea comes from one of three varieties of the CameliaSinensis bush, there are 6 main classes of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and Pu-erh. From these 6 classes, it is estimated there may be 20 thousand distinctions of teas. Why? There are 3 main reasons- where the tea is grown, how it is picked and processed, and if-and-how it is blended.
What to do? Try as many different teas as you can, and keep a notebook on them. Write down the name, where you bought it, and what you like and don’t like about it. This way you can develop your own ‘library’ of teas you like.
So, back to the Duchess and Countess. They are both right, and they are both wrong about tea. The Duchess has made too big of a fuss about it, and the countess hasn’t taken the time to know what she is drinking. So here is a simple way to brew the perfect cup.
- Choose a tea you like – it can be loose tea or a tea bag. If loose, be sure to have a small strainer to catch the tea leaves when you pour out a cup.
- Use fresh cold water each time. Bring the water to the correct temperature for your tea:
- For white teas or Japanese green – about 160 degrees; for standard green – about 170 degrees; oolongs about 180; black tea about 190; and Pu-erh tea about 200.
- Column of steam rising-170-180; Fish eyes- (large lazy bubbles break surface) 180-200, String of pearls – tiny bubbles loop near perimeter-190-200; turbulent waters-full rolling boil
- Warm your teapot with hot tap water, and empty it. Place the tea in the pot, add water, and cover it.
- Time your tea to discover what tastes best to you. A general guide is:
- black-3-5 minutes, one steeping only;
- oolong- 90 seconds to 2 minutes, several steepings;
- green tea-2-3 minutes several steepings;
- white tea -90 seconds to 2 minutes –several steepings;
- Pu-erh tea – 2-5 minutes many steepings.
If you want to invite your friends to a tea party, there are many fun books to help you, as well as many websites about tea parties, tea recipes and so on. So make sure you take time to enjoy a good cuppa every once in awhile.