I was complaining about my recent ‘cream tea’, courtesy of a German airline. Regardless of Nicola Morgan’s tale* of her Taiwanese visitor who accidentally put whipped cream in his tea and pretended it was quite nice, tea really tastes better without. (*Your cream in the tea story reminds me of when a Taiwanese man came to stay and we thought it would be nice to show him an “English” tradition. — Anyway, inevitably, he dolloped the clotted cream into his tea while our mouths were too frozen to warn him in time. He pretended it was delicious…)
So why call it cream tea?
I recall my first almost encounter with the stuff, back in January 1978. A group of us were driving from Harwich to Brighton and needed to stop and feed en route. I would guess we were in Kent, somewhere. It was Sunday evening and it was before everywhere started being open for business at all times, day and night. So we were grateful to find somewhere reasonably nice looking that was still open.
We ordered tea and scones. We knew that much. ‘Do you want cream tea?’ asked the waitress. ‘No, we’d like it with milk’ we replied, thereby narrowly avoiding a lovely treat.
I believe we all learned about cream teas during that spring term in Brighton. We certainly spent enough time at the Mock Turtle tea rooms, debriefing after exams.
Later on, also in Brighton, the Resident IT Consultant and I used to calculate whether we could afford a cream tea at the end of our Sunday walks. The tea usually won, because what’s the point of having walked to Rottingdean and then not having tea? £1 is what it cost in those far flung days.
Those foreigners not too stupid to ‘get’ what cream tea really is, tend to like it a lot. You sort of learn that it’s something you order when you’re doing touristy stuff in England (and Scotland if you visit Nicola Morgan).
Round about the time we relocated to Manchester, friend Pippi reported that someone from her local Swedish paper had visited that north western paradise, and how he had gone to the tourist information and asked where he could find somewhere nice for cream tea. They had looked at him bleakly and informed him that they didn’t engage in such things in Manchester.
Now it’s a lot easier, with lattes and muffins all over the place. And if you want cream in your tea, all you need to do is fly with certain airlines.