"Saucering" the tea
Posted by Carolyn B on January 20, 1998 at 22:21:31:
In response to "Take a dish of tay with me. . .", written by Laura W on January 20, 1998 at 16:46:05
] As Miranda says, it's just the term they used for the thing they drank tea from. It was wide and shallow, almost like a saucer. I gather the purpose was to let it cool faster so that it could be drunk (and is probably closer to the original tea-drinking vessels used in at the time in China). I have no idea when people started drinking it in teacups, but I have heard (read) of people pouring their tea out of the teacup and into the saucer to cool it, and drinking it from the saucer. It was considered gauche, or at best old-fashioned, and probably was something done by older people who drank it from "dishes" in their youth.
The house museum I used to work with had an English tea set from the 1820s or 1830s (I think) that had saucers with high rims (almost like the small, shallow dessert bowls you might buy today) and the cups had no handles. The curator told me that a set like this reflected the custom of "saucering" the tea. The tea would be too hot to drink in the handleless cups and so you would pour it into the saucer to cool. The saucers looked sort of like what Capt. Wentworth is drinking out of in the movie.
The Afternoon Tea Book (Michael Smith, 1986) says that originally European tea cups were made like Asian (more like small bowls) and handles were added in the mid 18th C. "probably because English and European ladies found it uncomfortable to hold the (hot) handleless cup with forefinger on the top rim, the thumb forming the base of a pincerlike grip by supporting the bottom 'under rim' of the bowl"
He also writes (and this appears to still be in the context of 18th C but he's not very clear) "it was considered quite polite to pour into and drink your tea from the saucer, a habit still in evidence among elderly people in some parts of Britain to this day"
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