Tea totaler



I am not a teacup person. I don’t own a teapot, a necessary accessory for being a teacup person, although I do own a tea ball, one of those round metal things with holes that you stuff full of loose tea and set into a teacup and pour hot water over, then watch as a rusty fog takes over the cup.

Why I have a tea ball is as strange to me as why I have a set of elegant porcelain teacups, artifacts of a time when I wanted to become a teacup person. Tradition was stacked against me though. My mother was a mug person, which makes it even stranger that I possess her gold-rimmed teacups, a gift from a smitten sea-captain – but that’s another story. Maybe she thought I should have them so they could transform me. Maybe she thought they’d give me something to aspire to – sedate afternoons cradling a see-through cup while engaged in a conversation about the latest book read, the state of the rose beds, and the chops wrapped in waxy butcher paper waiting to be fried for dinner.


The teacups sat in her kitchen cupboard eschewed in favour of a thick-handled Corelle mug, a vessel better suited to percolated coffee that burbled near the boiling point on the back burner of the stove. Every year when I traveled home to visit, I pulled the cups off the top shelf and gave them a soak and a scrub in hot soapy water to remove the dust and grease patina. There was no tea in the house so I would pour coffee into a cup, holding it by the comma shaped handle barely large enough to tuck my index finger into, where the coffee sat mud puddle brown.

I don’t remember when the cups and saucers became mine but they now sit on the top shelf of my kitchen cupboard, and periodically I pull them down and shake out the dry, hollow carapaces of dead ladybugs and dust. I make a ceremonial cup of tea with one of the bagged herbal teas we now have in our home because, you see, my oldest daughter is a tea person. Teabags, in case you didn’t know, have become sexy. Upscale tea comes wrapped in silky sheer cloth tagged with sage expressions scribed onto the little squares of paper connected by string to the bag, that are dangled over the rim of the cup so you can meditate while your tea steeps.

TeamugsMy daughter’s tea mugs are very different from my mother’s Noritake China love-boodle. She likes a flagon of tea while she studies alone in her room, the door closed, her bedroom infused with the aroma of lemon and ginger to stimulate her academic aspirations.

A few weeks ago my daughter and I received several teacups from the collection of a beloved aunt who died some years back. My sister-in-law was a tea person though not, to my knowledge, a teacup person. She sipped from pretty mugs, modern nods to the past. Like her mother, she was a storied storyteller in the Irish tradition of wandering tales told over an entire pot of tea, elbows on the kitchen table, mug always full, one story swirling to the next and the next and the next. Her collection came from her mother and mother-in-law who were women of the China-pattern generation. Teacups for the bridal shower, teacups for the baby shower, teacups for the priest after the christening, teacups for the funeral.

Today, my mother’s teacups came out of the cupboard and joined my sister-in-law’s cups on a tray on my living room coffee table. I’m never going to be a teacup person. I come from mug folk but I keep the cups for the people and the stories worth remembering.


48 thoughts on “Tea totaler

  1. Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 1:27 pm

    I had a great aunt who hoped I would grow up to “appreciate the finer things in life.” Every Christmas she gave me a bone- china teacup and saucer….many from places she had visited in Europe. “This is all the way from Limoges,” she would say. At age seven or eight I didn’t give a dang about teacups. What kind of a stupid present, was that? My mother tucked all of the cups away for me. “You’ll appreciate them someday,” she said. She was absolutely right. Once I had my own home and had acquired a taste for good tea, beautifully served and savored with a friend, I loved having those china teacups and saucers. A few got broken over time and many moves, but I still have three or four of them, and there is nothing quite like their delicate lips, their song against a spoon, and the way they make me slow down, savor the moment and—like Hyacinth Bucket— curl my pinkie finger up beside their ears. Thanks for the memories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:27 pm

      What a clever great aunt to think of the future Cynthia and to know you so well at 8 years old. The cups truly are treasures, so gently curved and the way they sit decisively in a saucer. I’m getting a lot of pleasure sitting in the living room reading and looking at the teacups as I sip my coffee. I do wish I was a tea person for the reasons you describe so well especially “their song against a spoon”. I wonder if our beverage preference says anything about our personalities? I’m a fidgety impatient sort and tea, to be enjoyed, needs patience.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 3:37 pm

        Don’t get me wrong…I am a real coffee drinker too! I grind the beans fresh each morning, toss a small piece of cinnamon stick into the grinder with them, “french press” the stuff, and drink it black, no sugar…. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:38 pm

        Now you’re talking! I recently bought one of those stove top espresso makers. Oh. Oh. Oh.! Black and thick. Reminds me a bit of my mother’s percolated coffee.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. D. Wallace Peach March 18, 2016 / 1:59 pm

    How lovely, Suanne. Those teacups are full of memories. I have my mother’s china, but I never ever use it – too beautiful, can’t go in the dishwasher, and I live with a herd of bulls. I remember as a child sneaking into the closet under the stairs to look at the plates with these golden egrets on the rim. Thanks for bringing back those memories 🙂


    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:31 pm

      Don’t you use the China even for special occasions? I don’t own any China but I do have some fancy Waterford crystal wine glasses that I pull out for birthday parties. I’m getting to the point where I think I’d rather use them and risk breaking them because they make drinking wine that much more pleasurable.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 3:40 pm

        Comes the day when you say “What am I saving this beautiful stuff for?” Use it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:45 pm

        I agree! The crystal cuts a funny image next to my stoneware dishes but nobody cares as long as the wine is potable and the chicken doesn’t bounce off the plate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • D. Wallace Peach March 18, 2016 / 8:09 pm

        I don’t use it at all. It’s packed and in the storage shed. (I only have one closet in my whole house so I can’t keep it inside). I’m so afraid to break it. I tell myself I’m saving it for my daughter, but she doesn’t have room for it either and now she has little kids. Maybe some day…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. joey March 18, 2016 / 3:03 pm

    Loved this post. I am a tea person, but not a teacup person. I have a kettle and a teapot and even some of the trendy fancy teas, but not a single teacup 🙂


    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:35 pm

      Do you use loose tea or teabags, Joey? A friend of mine shared some green tea she brought back from Japan which came in the most beautiful origami like bags. It smelled like fresh lawn clipping but tasted so mild and sweet. I’ve never had anything quite like it. We drank it out of ceramic handle-less cups.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joey March 18, 2016 / 8:58 pm

        I gave up buying loose tea long ago. Now and again I’m gifted some and I’ll make it, but the bags are just so much more tidy, I always buy them. The best loose tea I’ve had recently (just after New Year’s) was some blueberry elderberry mint. It was lovely and went too quickly. I’m big on herbals and have to use caution with caffeine. I like stoneware for tea, it retains the heat well 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Bruce Goodman March 18, 2016 / 3:14 pm

    I am most definitely a tea person. And served in bone china. I’ve never seen a sexy tea bag (the old bag who used to serve the tea in the office was anything but sexy!). My household creates only with Yorkshire Tea – a brand I have to drive an hour each way once a month to purchase at the nearest “English Shoppe”. What a lovely, cleverly crafted piece of writing this was, Susanne!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:37 pm

      You are a treasure to supply your household with tea so difficult to procure but I’m not surprised that something called Yorkshire Tea isn’t sexy. Why is it called “bone China” I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Goodman March 18, 2016 / 3:40 pm

        Some readers may not be happy that Yorkshire can’t be sexy – take sexy Sheffield for example! Bone China is a good question!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 3:43 pm

        I am making sweeping assumptions, of course but I picture thick hairy legs and sensible shoes or dripping Wellingtons along with the tea. Undoubtedly I’ve got it all wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Bruce Goodman March 18, 2016 / 3:58 pm

        I don’t own any shoes (or Wellingtons) and (strangely) I am just writing something now (soon to be posted) on not having hairy legs. (Yes – I am barefooted – except for funerals, but I haven’t been to one since 2002.)

        Liked by 2 people

  5. thecontentedcrafter March 18, 2016 / 4:02 pm

    Such an evocative and tender tribute to bone china and tea drinking Sue – I enjoyed reading it over my mug of freshly ground and brewed coffee 🙂

    I am exactly the same as you about beautiful tea cups – and I can add in matching tea pots now too. I own none, I don’t drink proper tea, only a nightly herbal tea. [And that from a large pottery, but attractively shaped, mug]. I have noticed lately in some of the stores that have trendy kitchen wares, a beautifully boxed set of cup and saucer and teapot that makes me think I might want to start drinking tea…… I doubt they are fine china, but they look mighty fine! I think I see myself sitting elegantly, sipping elegantly, probably in a crinoline and fine feathered hat – pinky crooked elegantly too of course 😀 Reality is of course quite, quite different.

    Like Cynthia I am a fan of using beautiful things – sometimes for purposes different than intended but used nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:33 pm

      Haha, Pauline, my preferred caffeine delivery comes from coffee, too. I used to have teapots but we live in a tiny house and as the family grew I gradually got rid of things that were dust-catchers, like unused teapots. I’m curious what you would repurpose a teapot for? I’m enjoying picturing you in a crinoline (there’s a word I haven’t heard in a long time!) and a feathered hat.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 6:52 pm

        Some repurposings for a teapot:

        —a vase for short flowers
        —a vessel to water house plants
        —a handy temporary repository of spare change
        —a family suggestion box
        —family lottery drawings
        —a still-life element for your “learning to draw” class
        —a secret stash of forbidden sweets
        …..I could go on…

        Liked by 2 people

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:58 pm

        Anybody have a teapot they don’t need anymore? I’m looking for one….

        Liked by 1 person

      • thecontentedcrafter March 18, 2016 / 7:43 pm

        The fact that I too live in a tiny house makes crinoline wearing no more than a vain fancy – but does ensure all beautiful things are also useful. I repurpose things in my studio mostly – but you can find jugs and glasses and bowls and baskets all over the house holding all kinds of things – flowers, beads, papers, findings, cleaning implements, cutlery ……. Cutlery in a flower pot, a biscuit barrel full of buttons, flowers tend to get placed in jugs of all sizes…… My only bone china cup [no saucer] was a gift from a blogging friend and currently sits on the kitchen window sill holding plant cuttings, prior to that it was in the studio holding a stash of assorted findings I didn’t know what to do with, I don’t have a tea pot. The last three teapots I owned didn’t pour nicely and I blame them for putting me off tea drinking!!

        Liked by 3 people

  6. hilarycustancegreen March 18, 2016 / 4:15 pm

    Lovely piece. I spent my life battling to have mugs for my tea, when all around me were drinking from cups. I need more than the 4 sips you get from a cup and saucers are simple a hazard (unless you take sugar). There’s nothing like the solid warmth of a mug between my paws. Teabags are OK for everyday, but if I a on my own I will take a spoonful of loose Lapsang Souchong and make tea the way my mother made it, very light or, as someone once said, ‘water bewitched’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:30 pm

      I like my tea bewitched, too. Just a shade darker than light. I also find that a mug keeps tea warmer for longer than a wide bowled teacup. I used to collect pottery mugs from craft shows but strangely they were never very sturdy around the handle and broke.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner March 18, 2016 / 5:29 pm

    I’m not a total tea totaler myself, but I do like to enjoy a cuppa’ once in a while in a china cup. Beautiful alliteration “better suited to percolated coffee that burbled near the boiling point on the back burner.” And by the by, ‘Bone’ china contains animal bone ash. Thanks for the granny memories too, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 5:55 pm

      Traditionally, cow bone ash was used, but there are those companies that will use human bone ash—from a crematorium—if you would like to have your tea cups made from a cherished relative… 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:24 pm

        “Ew” is my first reaction and, on reflection thinking about sipping tea out of a cup made of granny’s bones, “ew” remains.

        Liked by 3 people

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:25 pm

      Thank you, Donna, for solving the bone mystery. This might be an “ignorance is bliss” moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thecontentedcrafter March 18, 2016 / 7:46 pm

        I am educated again! I did not know any real bones were used – I guess I didn’t think about it at all! As to drinking out of the dear departed …………. I’m with you Sue ‘Ewwww!’ doesn’t put too fine a point on it does it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 7:53 pm

        Sometimes thinking about things is over-rated.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. exiledprospero March 18, 2016 / 5:54 pm

    I don’t know the meaning of the word tea. But coffee sounds familiar. Lots of it–in glass cups, mugs, or a bowl, if nothing else is available. Maybe it has to do with the robust odor of coffee. Tea is just too subtle, too refined (it’s something army generals would drink while fiddling with maps and the like ). But perhaps my biological need of coffee will diminish with the patina of time, and I will become a tea drinker–haplessly directing this or that battalion into harm’s way .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 6:38 pm

      I too have a dependence on coffee that is both pathological and philosophical and completely unsubtle. I like the bitter jolt of reality in the morning to prepare me for work where I collude with my coworkers to thwart the tea-drinking general wannabees.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yvonne March 18, 2016 / 8:20 pm

    What an elegant piece of prose this is. When the op-shop opens on Monday, I’m going to see if there is a fine tea cup or two to own and admire. I might go down and press my nose to the window now, to see if they have any.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 18, 2016 / 8:31 pm

      From all the sweet comments I’m mighty tempted to go looking for an old teapot. Good luck in your hunt, Yvonne.


  10. Osyth March 18, 2016 / 9:12 pm

    What a beautifully written homage to the teacup. I drink my builders tea out of mugs but occasionally am consumed of a madness that compels me to do the whole pot, warm, leaves, strainer, is it milk before or after, will I be struck down if I do it wrong and into the bone china cup to drink daintilly with little finger cocked. I always love it … until I have to clean out the wretched pot!


    • Susanne March 21, 2016 / 1:30 pm

      What the heck is “builders tea”? I’ve heard this expression twice now. It conjures up images of construction workers sitting on scaffolds taking a break and sipping tea from a thermos.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth March 21, 2016 / 2:53 pm

        That is exactly what it is! Builders and workmen in general are ranked to drink very strong black tea with milk and lots of sugar in England (and very often live up to their reputation, I might add). The colour as it comes out of the huge metal pot in the cafe (generally referred to as a greasy spoon) should be akin to Pamela Andersons permatan …. We usually say it’s tea you can stand the spoon up in. I don’t put sugar in but I do have a splash of milk 🙂


  11. Cynthia Jobin March 18, 2016 / 10:53 pm

    Susanne.. TEA COZIES !! You could knit tea cozies if you get that teapot. They would be so simple… you could get into that “zone” for inspiring your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 19, 2016 / 7:43 am

      Brilliant! Now I truly do have a reason to find a teapot.


  12. derrickjknight March 19, 2016 / 4:44 am

    My youngest son’s mother-in-law in Australia collects tea cups and saucers – the older the better. Lovingly nursed, on the dresser shelves, they are not, as far as I am aware, used for drinking


    • Susanne March 19, 2016 / 7:41 am

      I have a friend who collects teacups and up until a few weeks ago I really didn’t understand the interest but since the arrival to the new cups and careful scrutiny of the way they’re made, the artistry of the painted designs, the variety of shapes, I’m beginning to see the appeal. I have artfully arranged 4 various cups on my coffee table and they really brighten up the room. They even make me want a cup of tea.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. spearfruit March 19, 2016 / 12:57 pm

    A lovely story Susanne, I am a mug person, but I remember my grandmother being a teacup person. Times change I guess. I hope your weekend is wonderful! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 19, 2016 / 1:05 pm

      It’s shaping up to be a wonderful weekend. Same to you, Terry!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Lisa @ cheergerm March 19, 2016 / 8:50 pm

    Beautifully thoughtful piece of writing. I do love my Yorkshire tea, from an old school teabag for every day and the ‘real thing’ when time is abundant.


    • Susanne March 19, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      You’re the second person to mention Yorkshire tea. I think I’m going to have to search this brand out and give it a try.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa @ cheergerm March 19, 2016 / 10:40 pm

        Its good and strong and gives a nice ‘builders tea’ taste. (An English saying from my husband.)


  15. Ellen Morris Prewitt March 21, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    How very nice this piece is; I kept reading and thinking, this is just so good. 🙂 I am a tea person, but I drink from mugs. When I re-married 17 years ago and had no china at all, I chose a pattern and without even thinking about it, I bought cups and saucers, not even considering that I drink from mugs, which is how “china-pattern generation” I am (a generation, I think, has been extended in the American South–and how’s that for a run-on sentence?) Anyway, the cups are perfect for oatmeal in the morning or ice cream or yogurt, and I use the saucers all the time for bread or toast. Interesting that tea, which once determined the fate of nations, is still such a rich topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne March 21, 2016 / 1:36 pm

      Thank you, Ellen. I’m so glad you liked it. We spent an evening in the home of my sister-in-law a few weeks back saying good-bye to it with her daughters and her husband who had just sold the home. I wanted to include her in the story. I think the whole China pattern thing is a nice tradition but I’m also a very practical person and want to use the things we have. Good idea to use the cups for other things. I see a lot of “repurposing” going on in the comments.

      Do you think coffee makes people nostalgic?


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