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Victorian tea?

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I was curious about how tea was taken by the English during the Victorian era, so I did a little bit of digging on Google Books. One surprise was the number of works that suggested a "two-part" steep, namely steeping the tea for a few minutes in a very small amount of boiling water, then filling the remainder of the pot with boiling water and steeping again. It seemed to be a popular competitor to the more standard three to five minute steep, all-water-at-once method used today.

An example from The Dictionary of Daily Wants, circa 1866:

Having well-scalded the teapot, put in the tea, and pour over it about one-third of the water the pot will contain, and set it by the side of the fire for ten minutes, then fill up the pot and allow it to remain for six or eight minutes longer, by which time it will be thoroughly drawn.

I get the impression that the dual-steep method is the older one, as it is mentioned more frequently in the early part of the era (Leigh Hunt mentions it in his London Journal in 1834) and less as the 1800s draw to a close. Does anyone have any idea why it fell out of favor? Was it due to the switch from Chinese teas to Ceylon and Indian teas? Something else?

Does anyone out there still prefer the double-steep method? It seems as though it would make tea that was very bitter... a milk-only method, I assume?

Any thoughts?

Edited by mbanu (log)
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As an inveterate tea drinker (about 6 cups a day), I find rinsing the pot with hot water, put tea in pot and then add water at a rolling boil, for it then to sit for 5 minutes.

No stirring afterwards.

I bet the two step steep method was meant to wring out every smidgeon of taste

Tea was very expensive, the tea-caddy having a lock the servant would bring the caddy to the madame for the correct

amount to be doled out and the tea would have been taken with milk.

I have some very expensive tea from Hong Kong, Hzagzou Pre-Chingming LONG JIN, it came with instructions to steep for 2 minutes the first time you use it, 4 minutes the second time and 6 minutes the third time.

Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Doing a bit more digging, the double-steep method seems to be a variant of the Chinese method of putting a small amount of hot water on the leaves to allow them to unfold before putting the rest of the water on. However, the amount of time this is done in is much less than the 11 to 19 minutes (!!) suggested by the 1866 example.

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That method of brewing tea was in use well before the Victorian era.

Think about how tea was packed and shipped and how long it took.

Tea of whatever type, (China was mainly green, India was black) was packed tightly into wooden boxes lined with tin or sometimes lead, pressed so firmly that it had to be broken apart and agitated to make it loose enough to sell.

The journey by sea could take many months and the tea would eventually become dry. The pre-wetting of the leaves would allow the tea to absorb some moisture and thus infuse fully when the remainder of the water was added.

Dr. Samuel Johnson had a lot to say about tea in the 18th century and he consumed a lot, up to 26 cups a day by his own reckoning. He went so far as to dictate how his "dish" of tea was to be brewed when visiting friends.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett


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