The Tea Things of Jane Austen

The Tea Things of Jane Austen
Jane Austen would have felt comfortable sipping Chinese teas, purchased at Twinings (above), from this c.1770 Worcester tea and coffee set on display at Saltram House. Image Courtesy of Benjamin Press

What were the typical tea things found in fine homes during the early 1800s?

Pembroke tables were stationed along the walls until teatime, when they were moved to the center of the room and the side leaves raised to accommodate a hot water urn, a teapot, a wooden or Chinese porcelain tea caddy, teacups, teaspoons, a sugar bowl, and matching milk ewer (pitcher). A servant or a younger family member brought out these tea things, and the hostess made the tea in front of gathered friends.

One of my favorite tea things of the 1800s was the mote spoon. Mote is an Old English word for something that is present but should be removed—as in a floating tea leaf in a cup or a speck of too-old milk that rises to the top of your tea. The long-handled silver mote spoon had slots in its bowl, which made it just the right tool for straining those embarrassing blemishes out of a teacup. We find unwelcome motes mentioned in Mansfield Park:

“She sat in a blaze of oppressive heat, in a cloud of moving dust, and her eyes could only wander from the walls . . . to the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue . . .”

Where did Jane Austen buy her tea that was kept under lock and key in her tea caddy? She was known to purchase tea from Twinings in London, where she could be sure of buying unadulterated leaves.

In an 1814 letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen mentions: “I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining til later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.”

You may visit that same Twinings store, located on the Strand, the next time you visit London. Be sure to tell the staff you are there on the recommendation of Jane Austen!


TeaTime Contributing Editor Bruce Richardson is co-author of A Social History of Tea. Find out more about this and his other books at elmwoodinn.com.


From TeaTime November/December 2016

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you – what a lovely thought! I’ve shared your article with the Jane Austen Fan Club Facebook group. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

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