Love and Scandal are the Best Sweeteners of Tea.

A Little Tea and Gossip by Robert Payton Reid 

Tea drinking has come a long way since Victorian and Edwardian England’s stuffy drawing rooms. Today we make our own rituals and trends of Tea from fruit, flower and herbal infusions, individual private tea blends to Japanese Tea ceremonies and Matcha green, White and Pu-erh Teas. We can visit the grandest of old homes and hotels across the globe for lavish High Teas or enjoy your favourite brew of perhaps Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Oolong or Orange Pekoe, shared with a friend at home, in a cafe or a Tearoom.  But Tea in our digital age, or T, is slang for gossip, especially on social media. To give Tea means to tell a story or share a scoop, most probably about celebrities.


You can give Tea, get Tea or spill Tea. Using the nature of Tea, (that it is Hot) is the slang way of saying hot gossip or a juicy story. So, one could say, “Girl, what’s the Tea”. If you prefer not to gossip, you can say “No Tea” or if you are concerned about someone “, What’s your Tea”? Spilling Tea means to gossip about someone.Extract` from Urban Dictionary on Sipping Tea

The slang use of the word Tea is said to have originated from “the custom in the American South of women who gather in the afternoon to drink tea and gossip.” As is the custom in the UK, Ireland and just about everywhere else. Nothing like a cuppa to start a good chat, share a confidence or embellish a story!

“Find yourself Find a cup; the teapot is behind you.Now tell me about hundreds of things”

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events.Small minds discuss people.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Since afternoon Tea began in the English Court in the middle of the 17th century, by Catherine of Braganza. The fashion spread to the middle classes in the 18th century, and women set in motion a ritual that remains popular today. An afternoon respite to talk, drink tea and gossip. The ritual began because men were accustomed to going out to lunch or coffee houses for the afternoon, to talk to their contemporaries about business and politics, and women were left at home. Dinner was the formal meal and served late, so to alleviate the hunger of a very long afternoon, tea began to be drunk by the elite classes.

Queen Victoria herself established her love of afternoon tea. It then became commonplace for women to invite friends over for tea in the late afternoon. It was a fashionable and enjoyable opportunity for a delicious snack of biscuits, and cakes. The tea table was also an opportunity to share news, whispers and stories.

Later, Tea Emporiums and Tearooms became fashionable and were considered to be safe places for women to go alone to meet their friends. Afternoon Tea became a more lavish, and elaborate party for people to share the tea table, and talk over scandals or titbits of news in the Tatler or Ladies Fashionable Repository. The upper and middle classes were the forerunners of afternoon tea that provided an opportunity for women to express their fashion sense, and to display refinement and elegance in their conduct, but it was also an example of women’s place in a patriarchal society.

On the other hand, poor and working-class women were chastised for excessive tea drinking and for not abiding by the rules of etiquette for the tea table. Women who did not uphold the strict social rules and etiquette were called ignorant and were thought to be undermining their family and society with the overconsumption of Tea.

I’ll take tea in my room she said coldly, and I’m not in the mood for gossip” Merry Christmas Mrs Minerva.Edmund Cooper

Popular art and literature of the 1800s reflected the social issues of unregulated tea drinking by upholding high standards, propriety, and respectability. By expressing a comedic outlook, and satirical view of women and the Tea Table. As we read in “Pride and Prejudice,” Mr Collins considered the invitation to have “Tea” with Lady Catherine to be a great honour bestowed upon Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her friends. An invitation to drink tea ‘at home’ was considered a huge honour.

The author Lewis Carroll in 1865, wrote one of the best examples of Tea Table TittleTat in Alice in Wonderland and The Mad Hatters Tea Party

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter. “It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
Lewis Carol

Satirists of the period like Anglo Irish author, Johnathan Swift (1667 –1745) believed that tea had a contrary effect on the humour of the mind. They thought the tea table was the playing field for feminine displays of backbiting and scandal. As he describes a lady enjoying her cup of tea:

“Surrounded with the noisy clans
Of prudes, coquettes and harridans.
Now voices over voices rise,
While each to be the loudest vies;
They contradict, affirm, dispute,
No single tongue one moment mute;
All mad to speak, and none to hearken,
They set the very lapdog barking;
Their chattering makes a louder din
Than fish-wives o’er a cup of gin;
Far less the rabble roar and rail
When drunk with sour election ale.”

Journal of a Modern Lady Swift.

It is not only a sense of scandal, and gossip that Tea imbibes but the role of confidante, as in William Makepeace Thackeray’s book Pendennis.

“What part of confidante has that poor teapot played ever since the kindly plant was introduced among us! Why myriads of women have cried over it, to be sure! […] Nature meant very kindly by women when she made the tea plant; and with a little thought, what series of pictures and groups of the fancy may conjure up and assemble round the teapot and cup.”

William Makepeace Thackeray

Pull out the family Teapot and relax with your favourite Tea brew and make up your own special ways that you like to drink Tea and share a confidence with a friend.

All content Di Baker February 2020 with thanks to Wiki media, Unsplash and Fine Art America for the images. Read more on the History of Afternoon Tea here

Title quote by Henry Fielding (1707-1754) “Love in Several Masques”