Selling Even More Tea to China: Entrepreneurs Doing it Right

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the merits of doing the seemingly impossible: selling tea to China. After garnering quite a bit of interest, I’ve decided to extend that article (although, if you haven’t yet read the old one, you can take a look here). Today I’m going to link you to some news articles about entrepreneurs who are all selling their own tea to China.

1. “Who says you can’t sell ice to an Eskimo? Cornish tea plantation starts exporting tea to CHINA the birthplace of the beverage” – http://www.dailymail.co.uk | Sept. 30, 2013

2. “Export Champions: How I sell tea to China” – http://www.telegraph.co.uk | May 30, 2013

3. “Earl Grey descendants sell English tea to China” – uk.reuters.com | Feb. 1, 2013

4. “Selling (herbal) tea to China” – http://www.ruralweekly.com.au | Apr. 16, 2014

5. “Madura sells tea to China” – http://www.theland.com.au | Aug. 22, 2012

6. “The company helping the British sell tea to China” – http://www.bbc.com.au | June 20, 2013

As it turns out, it’s not as rare an occurrence as you might think, and savvy businesspeople are taking advantage of it.

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Afternoon Tea Etiquette

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The etiquette involved in afternoon tea is quite rich and complex. Due to its conception in the 1800’s (when the importance of manners was an imperative topic), it became quite a topic of adherence and admiration. Those who served as hosts and took food as guests were expected very particular conduct, right down to the way a person stirred his or her tea with their spoon. During this time missing your manners was both embarrassing and disrespectful.

While in general modern life is not nearly as strict with social customs, manners and etiquette are still important and relevant during a session of afternoon tea (although how formal it is is often up to the host’s discretion). In light of this, we’ve created a guide so that you can achieve excellent tableside manner during this most decadent snack.

The Role of the Host

When you first decide to hold an afternoon tea, you should at least consider the season of the year; warmer weather is best, as an afternoon tea is much better when sitting in low-seated outdoor chairs in a pleasantly warm garden.

As the host, your first and foremost concern should be your guests. As you serve them tea, offer to stir in the sugar or milk if the decide to have it; during the earlier 1800’s you would generally have been in control of this by default, as both tea and sugar were expensive commodities. However, those who could afford both tea and sugar easily would allow their guests to add their own milk and sugar, demonstrating their wealth and social dominance. Obviously neither are relevant today with the relatively low cost of both tea and sugar, so it is best just to ask.

Your teaware should ideally be made of porcelain. China cups can be extremely beautiful to look at and the delicacy of the cup showcases much about afternoon tea itself, in an almost ceremonious way. Also included should be a three-tiered cake stand; the best of these come in silver – yet another way to demonstrate wealth – however you should feel free to use a stand made of other materials, as many people often do. Saucers should always be given to your guests to go with their teacups, as well.

All foods should be presented by you and placed upon the serving table. After all, it would not do to have your guests running around to get food themselves, as that would be impolite of you. As they are your guests, you must tend to them.

 

The Role of the Guest

The teacup you are provided with will most likely be a handled variety, although some of the more traditional Chinese cups may come without a handle. If this is the case, then it is important to remember that these cups will usually become unbearably hot around the middle, so you should try to pick it up by the rim, instead. Use your first three fingers and your thumb to pick it up at the very top, while maintaining a pinkie out for balance.

Handled varieties of teacups are easier to manage; you should pick these up with your first three fingers and thumb by the handle, however it was considered impolite to loop your fingers through it. Instead, you will need to use strength in your fingers and thumb to clamp the handle and raise it that way, again keeping that pinkie out for some added balance.

Your teacup will be presented with a saucer. This saucer should not be brought to your mouth with the teacup, as this is considered impolite. The saucer must remain on the table (or your lap, depending on the type of afternoon tea in session) as you drink your tea. As you drink, do not slurp. If you stir your sugar in yourself, also avoid clinking the spoon against your teacup.

It is an important note to add that you should never, however tempted you may be, add lemon to tea containing milk. This is not for politeness’s sake; the result will be curdled milk. Due to lemon’s vast quantities of citric acid, the fruit can actually partially cook meats when the juice is squeezed onto them. The same, unfortunately, is true for milk.

When it comes down to manners and etiquette, this is all you should need to know to hold your own afternoon tea session, or attend one. Politeness was key in late 18th Century Britain, and it only continued to blossom as time progressed to the 19th Century.

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The History of Afternoon Tea

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Afternoon tea has its roots going back to the 1800s, where it is thought to have been invented by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Since during that time there were only two generally accepted meals throughout the day (one at the beginning and the other at the end), the Duchess found that a “sinking feeling” would become apparent, from hunger and fatigue. To combat this feeling, she decided that she’d invite some of her friends over for a light meal of tea and snacks. This began afternoon tea as a very exclusive meal to high society.

Afternoon tea was also enjoyed by the lower-middle class, but not nearly as often as people belonging to higher classes; long working schedules and a lack of money often prevented this meal from taking place.

After Duchess Anna began holding her afternoon tea and snacks as a daily ritual, the upper-class of Britain took hold and began offering their own afternoon teas. They would invite their friends to lounge around their gardens during the summer and drink tea, eat tiny cakes, enjoy finger sandwiches, and slather scones in cream and jam. The ritual was a slice of decadence, but was treated as more of a snack than a meal; it was only ever meant to fill the gap between lunch and dinner.

Britain during the 1800s was a place where women were expected to have rule of the house, while men were expected to work. Women would usually leave the house with a male escort, as they were considered far too delicate to be out on their own. Teahouses would serve tea to those with their escorts, but a woman without a man by her side would not be served. Therefore, many women decided to play out the ritual of afternoon tea within their own homes, still avoiding much contact with the outside world but still able to meet with her friends. Afternoon tea would often be served at 3:30pm.

Afternoon tea had very strict rules of etiquette, to the point where many people nowadays would question the need for them. However, they were followed near-religiously by the British, and a violation of etiquette during afternoon tea would be considered quite rude, indeed (see Afternoon Tea Etiquette).

Today, afternoon tea has taken quite a fall from where it previously stood. In Britain it is rarely served every day, even by the economic elite. This is due at least partially to the fact that women are no longer considered as delicate, and are allowed to go out and work without being subjected to social ridicule. Many women simply aren’t home during the time afternoon tea is served, and the rush of life itself often robs people of the time to conduct it even when not at work. Thus, it has become a tradition that is rarely practiced except on weekends, and even then only by the especially eager. Special occasions, however, will often still involve an afternoon tea.

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