Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Love of a Lifetime

By Lynne Connolly (Guest Blogger)

Coffee and tea and even hot chocolate are so ubiquitous to our world that we hardly think about it. But it wasn’t always that way.

Coffee and tea were introduced into England in the mid seventeenth century. Legend has it that it was popularised by the queen of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, who brought her tea drinking ways from her native Portugal. Whatever, it soon became extremely popular and it’s never lost its appeal.

But they didn’t just take to it because it was “nice.” It was a welcome way of imbibing water safely. We tend to forget that until mid Victorian times, it just wasn’t safe to drink water. It carried bacteria, and while our ancestors didn’t know about them, they knew the results. Drinking water made you ill. There were two main ways of making it safe. You could boil it or you could brew, distill or use it in the fermentation process. That explains why wells containing safe water were so precious and carefully guarded, too.

Boiled water tastes horrible. There’s no way anyone would want to live on that, and the flavouring doesn’t really help a lot. So most people, men, women and children, drank beer. The usual everyday beer, known as “small beer” wasn’t very alcoholic, but was an acceptable drink. In the West country, they liked cider. In Scotland, they made beer from barley. Whatever was available. Strictly ale, because beer has to have hops in it, but it wasn’t very long before the hop industry got under way and oast houses were opening hither and yon. Distilled water, plus a few extra ingredients led to spirits, brandy and gin for the most part (whisky came in later, in the Victorian age), and fortified wine like port and sherry.

But isn’t it nice to sit with a hot drink on a cold day? Our ancestors, for the most part, didn’t do this. That is, until coffee, tea and chocolate (as a drink) came in. Coffee houses soon sprang up around the culture. Men only establishments, apart from the women who might serve in them, they were open to anyone who looked respectable. They opened in major cities in competition with the inns, and soon started to specialise, especially in London. They became places of business, and soon men engaged in certain aspects of business congregated in specific coffee houses. Lloyds was for shipping and insurance. The Cocoa-Tree was popular with Tories and Jacobites (later it became a private gambling club). Will’s Coffee house on the corner of Bow Street collected writers. Dryden’s chair was kept there.

At home, women took to tea drinking. Tea sets were delicate, precious objects, and until the late eighteenth century, teacups, or tea-dishes, as they were known, didn’t have handles. They were held by their broad bases instead. Porcelain was delicate and precious, and it was a measure of your gentility as to whether you dared to pour in the hot tea before you added the milk, because the porcelain cracked and broke. If you could afford to, you would put the tea in first.

As the dinner hour was pushed back and the gap between breakfast and dinner became wider, the need for a mid-afternoon snack increased, and so ladies would hold salons where they served tea and delicacies. Some of these became the centre of literary and even political excellence, with famous hostesses like Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu presiding over a distinguished group of poets, playwrights and novelists.

Later, tea and coffee became important weapons in the armoury of the nonconformist teetotaller. It became possible to eschew alcohol altogether, and some of the most famous coffee and tea companies in the world were begun by Quakers or nonconformists who wanted to either limit the amount of alcohol imbibed, especially by the lower classes, or cut it out altogether. Out of this came one of the most important developments womankind has ever known: chocolate bars. First produced by Fry, they were seen as an interesting addition to the drinking sort chocolate. The company, founded by a particularly prominent Quaker family from the Shoreditch Community, also saw the bars as a good way of keeping chocolate in less than hygienic situations. By this time, the first half of the nineteenth century, tea and coffee were seen as part of everyday life, no longer luxuries, and had supplanted small beer as the usual drink of all classes, from the cobbler to the King.

And for me, coffee and tea led to the longest love affair of my life. When I was nine years old, we did a project on coffee and tea. It included production and manufacture. We started with a slide show, always a treat in our school, and I watched, enraptured, when they put up a print of a coffee house, the one I’ve put above. Right then and there I saw the place of my dreams, I saw a world I wanted to enter and I was desperate to know more about it, experience it, be part of it. I wanted a time machine, and I knew I’d been born in the wrong century.

Later, I learned better. I could live in the eighteenth century, but there are some things I’d find it very hard to live without. The vote, for instance. Still, at that exact moment, I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with the eighteenth century. Later, when I went to university, I deliberately chose Tudor history, not Georgian, because I didn’t want the magic to die. It was my secret. But the passion never died, never went away and today it’s as strong as ever. So strong that I write books set in the middle of that glorious time, and every time a new book comes out about that era, I buy it. I’m more passionate about the mid Georgian period, the 1750’s, than I am about the Regency, so I write books set then.

I can’t see it ever stopping.

Bio: Lynne Connolly lives in England with her family and her mews, a cat called Jack. She spends her time writing and filling her collection of doll’s houses. After acceptance by her first publisher she hasn’t looked back. She has over 40 books out, and plans for more. She writes in the paranormal romance, contemporary romance and historical romance genres and she likes to add a lot of steam!

She writes for Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, Carina Press, Loose-Id Publishing, Total E-bound, Champagne Publishing, Uncial Press and Awe-Struck Books.

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Lisabet Sarai said...

Greetings, Lynne!

Welcome to Beyond Romance, and thanks for the quick history lesson. I'm sorry I couldn't post a bigger version of the image. I hope readers get the sense of lively discourse that the full version conveyed.

Maggie Nash said...

Hi Lynne!

I felt the same way about history when I discovered Jean Plaidy. I read her series of books about The Tudors and I was hooked. I scoured all the books I could find from the library, plus I read our home encyclopaedia from cover to cover.

Funny I don't write about it though....but I do love the period. I'd love to go back in time with the knowledge I have now of course!


Lynne Connolly said...

You should, Maggie! It's a real challenge to make it come to life, but wonderful when it happens! But sometimes you want to keep your love to yourself, hug it close and never let it go.

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