Tea, poetry and breast cancer

8 year breast cancer survivor

Today, I celebrate 8 years being cancer free. My breast cancer was detected in July 2005 during a routine mammogram. Early detection can save lives – please be diligent with attending your mammogram apppointment.

A couple of years ago, I discovered this poem by Londoner Jo Shapcott that on this day in particular expresses my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing to a tea:



This tea, this cup of tea, made of leaves,
made of the leaves of herbs and absolute

almond blossom, liquid touchstone which lets us
scent its true taste at last and with a bump,

in my case, takes me back to the yellow time
of trouble with blood tests, and cellular
madness, and my presence required

on the slab for the surgery, and all that mess
I don’t want to comb through here because
it seems, honestly, a trifle now that steam

and scent and strength and steep and infusion
say thank you thank you thank you for the then, and now


– Jo Shapcott
From  Ten Poems about Tea
Candlestick Press



A Brief Encounter Over Tea

Brief Encounter tea roomAs a tea enthusiast, I’m always on the look-out for anything related to tea. As an Anglophile, I’m always on the look-out for that English connection. And as a lover of cinema, I’m always on the look-out for a good film.

I found all three in a 1946 English film called Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter is the quintessential English romantic drama. It was filmed in black & white and is very atmospheric thanks to the well-known and talented director David Lean. What makes it absolutely brilliant, of course, is the fact that a large part of the film’s action takes place in the refreshment room (i.e., tea room) of a train station. It is a bittersweet love story, enhanced in the film by the haunting melody of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter was filmed at a railway station (Carnforth) in the North of England during the war. This particular location was chosen partly because it was far enough from Southeast England that, should there be one, sufficient warning of an air-raid attack could be given allowing time to turn out the filming lights to comply with wartime blackout restrictions.

Carnforth station and it’s real-life refreshment room has become a bit of a mecca for Brief Encounter fans. It’s on my Bucket List, that’s for sure! (Read my post about another real-life refreshment room in Hampshire.)

I have owned the Brief Encounter DVD  for many years and I never, ever, ever tire of watching it. It’s a love story – a sad love story – and stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard (whom I adore).

Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter
Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter

The Brief Encounter Story

At a railway station refreshment room, housewife Laura Jesson meets doctor Alec Harvey. Although they are both already married, they gradually fall in love with each other. They continue to meet every Thursday at the station, although they know that their love is impossible.

Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter

The film was released amid the social and cultural context of the Second World War when ‘brief encounters’ were thought to be commonplace.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter

If you have never seen it, I strongly encourage you to buy a copy of the Brief Encounter DVD, brew yourself a pot of tea, and spend a couple of blissful hours watching this beloved English film. It will satisfy every tea-drinking Anglophile film fan.


Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter


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Lemon Cake recipe from The Tea Rooms in London

Lemon Cake using recipe from from Secrets of the Tea Rooms Those of us who love frequenting tea rooms (you know who you are), just can’t help ourselves from obsessing over their decor, teapots, cups and saucers, and food. And although we wouldn’t dream of ever giving up the pursuit of the perfect tea room, we do enjoy re-creating one or more aspects of our favourite tea room once we’re back home.  Whether it’s sourcing their beautiful china for our own tea table, buying a tin of their popular house blend, or having a go at trying to bake their cakes or scones, we want the tea room experience to go on within our own familiar habitat long after it has ended at the one away from home.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

But when it comes down to baking that cake or those scones, the problem is that some tea rooms want to keep their recipes a secret. Drat. Luckily, some tea rooms don’t mind sharing their recipes and even go so far as to publish them. The Tea Rooms, Stoke Newington Church Street, London is one of those, and I recently had a chance to review their cookbook, Secrets of the Tea Rooms – Recipes for Traditional British Cakes and Savouries.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

The Tea Rooms opened in 2007 and are owned and operated by mother and daughter team Anne Wilkinson and Isabelle Allfrey; Isabelle is a professional chef. The tea setting is traditional (LOVE those bentwood chairs), with an emphasis on quality homemade cakes and confectionery. Who wouldn’t like a cookbook filled with quality recipes from a tea room with a professional chef, huh?


Secrets of the Tea Room contains a variety of great sounding recipes – scones; cakes and pastries; soups; savoury pastries; biscuits and batch bakes; and Christmas cooking –  originating from family members and cookery books and adapted for the tea room. Measurements are given in imperial and metric, so the book is suitable for cooks on both sides of the pond.

Handy tips are sprinkled throughout as are colour photographs, making it an immediate winner as far as I’m concerned. There is also a brief history of tea in Britain – always a good sign.

I am certain that I will eventually try each of the recipes in this book: they are solid, traditional British tea fare. But I did have to narrow it down to just one for the blog post, so I decided on the Lemon Cake. With the days drawing in, I have been in a mood lately to drink more Earl Grey, and Lemon Cake and Earl Grey tea are an excellent pairing.


Lemon Cake

For one small loaf cake, made in a tin about 9 in (23cm) long. This loaf cake is made extra tangy with lemon syrup poured over the cake, straight from the oven.


Collected ingredients for the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms


1 lemon
5 oz (140 g) plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tblsp dark rum (I did not have any rum or rum extract, so I used vanilla extract)
6 oz (175 g) caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) melted butter
3 oz (75 g) double cream
2 oz (50 g) icing sugar



Set the oven to 180°C (350°F) or Gas Mark 4, and prepare a small loaf tin by greasing lightly and lining with baking paper.

Grate the zest of the lemon (the skin without the pith) or use a zester. Add the zest to the eggs, salt and sugar, and whisk together, without overworking. Stir in the cream. sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture. Then add the melted butter and rum. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 7 minutes at 200°C (400°F), Gas Mark 6. Then lower the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4, and bake for a further 33 minutes.

 Warm Lemon Cake just out of the oven, dotted with holes, ready for lemon syrup to be poured over

While the cake is baking, heat the juice of the lemon and the icing sugar together, until dissolved.

Tip: Do not let the lemon syrup boil, otherwise it could taste bitter.

The cake is ready when it is springy to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, but leave in the tin. Prick all over with a skewer (I didn’t have a skewer, so improvised using a matchstick) and then pour over the lemon syrup while the cake is still warm. Turn out when cold.


Lemon Cake using recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms

The Lemon Cake looked and tasted fantastic. The recipe was easy to follow, and I already had everything on hand. Baked in small, individual loaf tins, the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms would be perfect for holiday gift-giving to friends, neighbours or work colleagues, together with a festively wrapped copy of the book itself.

Visit The Tea Rooms website for opening hours and more information about their tea room, teas, bespoke cakes, venue hire, and home tea party service. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.


The Tea Rooms logo





155 Stoke Newington Church Street
London N16 0UH



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Betty Magazine is just my cup of tea

Tea & Cake Feature from Betty Magazine

It has been a long time since I have been excited about a magazine.  The last magazine I fell in love with was the original Victoria, way back in 1987.  But Victoria was eventually sold and re-published and was never the same.

The good news is that I am once again excited about a magazine – and it’s no Victoria. No, no, far from it. It’s Betty, and I love it.  Betty is fresh and colourful, youthful and fun and (at the moment) virtually free from advertisements. Can I hear a collective, “Yay!” ?


Betty Magazine


Betty Magazine

Betty never really officially launched but instead has been a “natural progression of a hobby” according to the magazine’s founder and editor Charlotte Jacklin. You won’t find any weight loss or diet tips there, they don’t play on people’s insecurities: their philosophy is for people to embrace who they are and celebrate it. When you enter the world of Betty you will find fashion, music, culture, and lifestyle content plus everything in between.

Betty is my new best friend and the best part about that is that I have never had a best friend so much younger than myself! The magazine is clearly designed for girls young enough to be my daughter a different age group than my own, but despite the generation gap, I have found plenty to like about Betty…beginning with the fact that a regular feature of the magazine is called Tea & Cake. Really now, Betty, how could we not become best friends?


Victoria Sponge Recipe, Betty Magazine

But there is much more to Betty besides Tea & Cake. The latest issue contains local Out & About event information; a charming article about falling back in love with the bicycle; an interview with the Vice-President of the Dalston Darlings Women’s Institute (honest!) who have started their own craft parties to ensure that all those lovely things they pin on Pinterest don’t just stay there; easy recipes (including the one above for Victoria Sponge); Life Skills tips (“Dry homegrown herbs in the microwave between sheets of kitchen paper. Put a mugful of water in at the same time to prevent burning.”); hair, fashion and make-up advice; a feature about a graphic designer working on a 365 project entitled Daily Teacup; and lots more – including stylish photographs and enchanting illustrations.

Visit Betty magazine’s website and blog to learn more about their talented team and to meet my new best friend – who has brought Tea & Cake & a breath of fresh air into my life.


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Wartime Tea Making Tips, c.1941

Drinking a cup of tea in London during the Blitz

In 1941 wartime England, the country was going through some of its darkest days. Believe or not, the simple cup of tea was extremely important to everyone, not only as a comforting solace, but as a means of reviving the spirit as well.

But even in time of war, not just any cup of tea would do – it had to be a proper cup of tea. In order to help those working in mobile canteens learn the rules of making the best cup of tea possible for troops and bombing victims alike, a short training film was created. Fortunately, this tea video survives in the BFI National Archive, and I thought you would like to see it.



As you watch the video, look for the poster on the wall behind the mad scientist tea instructor that says Tea Revives the World. The print became a rallying cry during the war, reminding people that tea would help them Keep Calm and Carry On. I’ll be talking more about the Tea Revives the World poster in the future.

Five years after this film was produced, George Orwell shared his personal tea-making tips in an essay about how to make a nice cup of tea. Those, and the ones in this video (below), are generally recognised as the golden rules for making tea.

6 tips for making proper tea

1. Always use a good quality tea

2. Always use freshly drawn water

3. Remember to warm the teapot or urn

4. Measure the right quantity of tea for the amount of water in the pot

5. The water must reach boiling point; pot-to-the-kettle, not kettle-to-the-pot

6. Let the tea brew for 5-10 minutes before serving


I hope you enjoy this nostaligic, atmospheric video on tea making tips circa 1941. Leave me a comment and let me know.


“Make every cup you make, be a cup that cheers.”


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Sugar in Tea

Sugar in Tea by Marielle ReuserWhen Tea in England gets a new Twitter follower, I like to welcome them to the fold with a brief introductory tweet; not a generic message, but one that tells something about them. In order to do that, I try to visit the profile page, blog, and/or website of every new follower first and have a little read to learn more about them and, especially, to find out their tea connection.

Several days ago, when Marielle Reuser (@miss_beretta) followed Tea in England, I went to her blog and saw that she lives in Yorkshire, works as a 3D artist for a video games company, and is one very creative, arty gal. She’s into painting, drawing, doodling and digital art, getting herself and her surroundings dirty with ink, water colours, acrylics, and tons of pencil shavings.  (Her mum must have been one very busy lady when Marielle was a little girl!)

I just loved her artwork so when I posted her introductory tweet, I asked if she had drawn any tea images.  Her response was, “Thank you for sharing my work! One cup of tea (drawing thereof) coming right up!”

Well guess what? Here it is! It’s called ‘Sugar in Tea’ and Marielle drew it just for me. Can you believe that? Marielle, thank you again. ♥  The thought of someone taking the time to do that for a total stranger is humbling.

Check out Marielle’s blog, called Miss Beretta, to find out the story behind the teacup design she used in this image.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Marielle Reuser here; and follow Tea in England here.





Tea in Art: What does it tell us?

Family of Three at Tea by Richard Collins

Family of Three at Tea
Richard Collins, c. 1727

Tea and tea drinking has been loved and enjoyed in England for over 350 years, popularised initially by Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.  Together with that tea love, came a love for all of the beautiful accoutrements used in its preparation and service, like silver teapots and china cups. In tea’s infancy, tea and tea equipage were extraordinarily expensive.

Because of its value, mere ownership of tea and tea paraphernalia was an indication of one’s wealth and social status.  Artists of the 18th and 19th century like Johan Zoffany were keen to include a family’s precious tea possessions in paintings called ‘conversation pieces’ – relaxed portraits of family groups or gatherings of friends. It was an excellent way to portray their clients’ affluence – and that is why we see teapots, tea caddies, and other tea-related impedimenta so often present in fine art.

Although no longer a status symbol, tea continues to be celebrated in contemporary art. The picture below is a personal favourite – a framed print hangs in my sitting room. It was painted in 1950, and is called Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor.  In it, we see King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), and her sister Princess Margaret enjoying a relaxed family occasion over tea and cake. (The family Corgi appears to be particularly comfortable!)



Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor by Sir James Gunn

Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor
Sir James Gunn, 1950


For more tea-related art, see Tea in England’s ‘Tea in Art’ Pinterest Board.


You can see the original Conversation piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor
at the National Portrait Gallery. Click here to purchase the print.

Fancy a Cuppa? book review

Tea Room Sign

Do you love tearooms? I love tearooms. I used to have a dream of opening a tearoom, but my research revealed that tearoom owners don’t just sit around all day with their customers drinking tea, but that they actually work very, very, very hard. (It was a nice thought, anyway.)

The first tearoom in England opened in 1706. Though no longer a tearoom, tea is still sold there: Twinings, 216 Strand, London. Twinings Tea remains a family-run business, and they hold a Royal Warrant, meaning they supply goods to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales. RoyalTEA, I suppose.

I have no idea how many tearooms there are in England (the term “a lot” springs to mind), but for tea enthusiasts like me, the dilemma is usually: How do you know where to find a good tearoom when you fancy a cuppa?

Fortunately, Simon Duffin and Anita Volkert have already done the leg work and provided some answers. Their book, Fancy a Cuppa, lists 50 great places across the UK for tea* and cake – each with a story to tell.


Fancy a Cuppa book cover


Fancy a Cuppa is not a “Top 50” collection of one individual’s favourite places for tea; I mean, face it – we could all write a book like that. Instead, Fancy a Cuppa shares with its readers 50 places for tea in the UK that meet the following criteria:

1. Serves really good food and drink.

2. Located in a beautiful and/or historic location.

3. Has a story to tell, either about the history of the building itself or the philosophy and approach of the owners.

Now that is a tearoom guide worth reading!


First things first

At the front of the book, the Nifty Fifty are listed geographically, each with a brief 3-4 sentence “teaser” of its unique quality. These descriptions are just enough to whet your appetite, leading you to delve further into the book. Here’s an example:


Fancy a cuppa in this 16th century barn where tea has been served since the 1920s  –  a stone’s-throw from the picture-book medieval castle? The scones here are something special, and they let you choose whether it’s whipped or clotted cream…


He said. She said.

The tearooms are then listed by theme – Best overall experience? Best story? Best cakes? Best view? Best building? etc etc etc – with Simon sharing his choice, followed by Anita sharing hers. (Guess what? They don’t usually agree.) This is my favourite part of the book! It’s like being in a tearoom, eavesdropping on the conversation of the couple sat next to you. (Not that I ever do things like that.) *cough*


The rest of the story

The remaining hundred or so pages cover each tearoom entry in detail from the particulars (address, open hours, directions – even parking tips) to the fascinating tales behind the owners, the building, and the setting. Colour photographs add to the enjoyment.

Apart from the engaging stories about owners and buildings, I was impressed with the number of tearoom owners who strive to locally source as much of their food as possible, and who offer home-baked cakes and bread. These are places worth supporting.

If you don’t have a particular need for the name of a good tearoom, or even if you don’t live in the UK, Fancy a Cuppa is still a worthwhile read. Like history? Learn about tearooms located in a former 15th c Tudor house, 16th c barn, and 18th c pub.  Foodie? Delight in distinctive menu offerings some tearooms provide: Lardy Cake, Pilchards on Toast, Maids of Honour, Molly Cake, and Yorkshire Parkin.



I have read dozens of tearoom guides over the years, but Fancy a Cuppa takes the cake. (Get it? “Takes the cake.” Cake. Tea. You know, tea and cake. Right, forget it.) Seriously, I highly recommend Fancy a Cuppa by Simon Duffin and Anita Volkert. It’s an excellent resource for tea lovers, day trippers, tourists – or anyone searching for a decent cup of tea with a twist.

Be sure to visit the Fancy a Cuppa website where you can read more about the tearooms featured in this book.  Additionally, a new book covering tearooms in 80 UK Cathedral towns and cities is in the works. (There is also a Fancy a Cuppa US book.) Find Fancy a Cuppa tearoom tweets here: @FancyaCuppaNow



*Fancy a Cuppa books also include recommendations for a good Cup of Joe (coffee).

Open this tea rapper for a lively brew

A Nice Cup of Tea by Jamie Broad, album cover

Yesterday, in Big Brother is watching you ….. make tea, I wrote about George Orwell’s essay A Nice Cup of Tea, in which he outlines his eleven personal “rules” for tea making. Today, I share with you eleven personal tea making “rules” from another man. Jamie Broad is a rapper from Liverpool – who knows a thing or two about how to make a nice cup of tea.


A Nice Cup of Tea by Jamie Broad. The Pocket Guide.

1) Put the kettle on to boil. Be sure there’s sufficient water in the kettle and that it’s plugged in.

2) Ask your guests, “Do you want a tea?” Count the “Yes’s. Neglect the “No’s.”

3) Make your way to the cupboard. Take out the appropriate amount of cups that relate to the amount of “Yes’s” you received.

4) Take out the teabags, add to the corresponding cups. Everyone has a favourite cup. It’s only fair if their’s is there, that if you’re making tea for that person then try to fill that one up.

5) Find out your guests’ preferences by asking, “How many sugars?” and/or “How milky?” NOTE: Get it right.

6) Pour the boiling water into the cups, making sure to pour through the teabag. Remember the milk preferences before you pour and reduce the amount of space required.

7) Give each cup a little swish with a teaspoon. This allows the bag’s flavour to be released.

8) Pull out the milk from the fridge and take off the top. Sniff it, even if it was opened only this morning.

9) Return to the mugs. Remember, the teaspoon’s your friend. Use it to mix the tea until it reaches the right colouring. Add sugar only to the correct mugs. Give it 20 stirs, then tap the spoon onto the side of the mug.

10) Take the tea to your guests and always ask the question, “Is that alright?”

11) Grab your own tea, and settle on the couch. Wait until you hear the universal seal of approval:


“Lovely that. Thank you. That was a nice cup of tea.”




A Nice Cup of Tea by Jamie Broad (from the album of the same name)
is available for free download here