It’s the simple pleasures of life that mean the most: a smile from a child a hug from a loved one, putting your feet up with a cuppa and a cake. We don’t ask for much!
It’s Just The Simple Things
But sometimes even the simple things are hard to come by. On every city street corner you’ll find a ‘Costa-Bucks’ Coffee Shop, but look for a good old-fashioned teashop, and you’ll struggle. Oh, you’ll find plenty of places that will offer you a teabag in a mug with a carton of UHT milk and a piece of mass-produced, preservative-filled cake, but if it’s a proper cuppa you want, home is the place to get it!
Today, the daily cuppa is a part of life all over the country. But our obsession with tea started hundreds of years ago. It was in 1657, in a coffee house in the City of London, that tea went on sale for the first time. It was claimed to be “good for clearing the sight, gripping of the guts, cold, dropsies, scurveys”, as well as helping to “make the body active and lusty”.
The coffee shops were a male preserve, but in 1864 a bread shop began serving tea, allowing ladies, unaccompanied by a chaperone, to visit and enjoy this new beverage.
In the 1960s, instant coffee was introduced; this was followed soon after by the teabag, with the resultant demise of the tea-making ritual.
This ritual, associated with having a cup of tea and a cake, is leisurely; it demands you slow down, maybe physically put up your feet, take time out, relax.
A good brew is not something that can be hurried; life slows down – and that’s good, even if it only lasts for 10 minutes. Even more importantly, tea made in the traditional way simply tastes better.
How To Make a Perfect Cup of Tea
- Put the kettle on to boil, having first emptied it of any stale water, and refilled it. Just before the water comes to the boil, pour a little in a clean tea-pot. (Ideally the pot shouldn’t be too large.) Swirl the water around to make sure the pot is warmed right through.
- If you’re using loose tea, you’ll need a teaspoon of tea per person plus one for the pot. One teabag per person is usually more than enough.
- As soon as the water boils, pour it on the tea, having taken the pot to the kettle – the water should be boiling at the moment it is poured on the tea. Give it a stir, put the lid on and cover the pot with a tea cosy.
- Leave it to stand for 2-4 minutes depending how strong you like your tea.
Pouring the Tea
If you’re using tea leaves, you’ll need a strainer to hold over the cup to prevent the leaves getting in. They’re not harmful but anyone who has drunk a mouthful of tea leaves will tell you that it’s not a pleasant experience!
Everyone has their own opinion – and many arguments have raged – over the vexing question of what should go in first. Some people like to pour the milk into the cup first, while others say that adding it afterwards allows you to better judge how much is needed. One thing is sure: the milk should be semi-skimmed. If it’s too creamy, it spoils the taste of the tea.
Of course, some people prefer a slice of lemon, especially if they’re using Earl Grey tea.
The next important question: what cake goes best with tea? There are those who would say ‘any cake!’ But some types have a more natural affinity. Farmhouse fruit cake, Madeira, spicy fruit loaf, and lemon cake all have a wholesome and homely feel to them. A lovely thick chunk of farmhouse fruit cake, run through with sultanas and raisins, with its crumbly texture is very satisfying, while a slice of Madeira or lemon cake can bring a summery brightness to your day. On the other hand, a slice of Fruit Loaf, thickly buttered, should be eaten in front of a fire.
Fairy cakes are ideal for those times when you’re desperate to sit down, but if you have time to spare, then enjoy warmed and buttered pikelets.
Don’t Like Tea?
In case coffee drinkers are feeling ignored, let’s look at some cakes for them. A cake ideally needs to be able to hold its own alongside the strong flavour of coffee. The most obvious choice is Chocolate Cake, its rich taste perfectly mirroring the richness of the coffee. Nutty cakes like walnut or a tray-bake with a crunchy pecan topping are also good, while flaky almond pastries, coconutty Madeleines, and choux buns oozing cream all have that continental elan.
But however you’re feeling, and whatever your choice of beverage, you can be sure there’ll be a cake that’ll suit your needs!