Confession time: I’m a movie addict. Romance, comedy, drama, mystery, historic, sci-fi, romantic comedy, dramatic romance, mysterious sci-fi, romantic historic, sci-fi comedy… well, you get the idea! And during the years I have been writing about tea, several movies have cropped up. Here they all are in one spot. There are many, many more, so feel free to post your fave in the comments.
#1 – Tea in the Movies
We can learn a lot about life and lifestyles from movies. Some try to depict how we really live. Others show how they think we live. Still others show how they think we should live. When it comes to tea, most movies made in Hollywood definitely portray tea drinking as how they think we do it, not how any serious tea drinker does it. However, movies and programs made in countries where tea drinking is regarded as an important aspect of daily life (for example, Britain) portray tea drinking in a manner that reflects this more serious view.
An example of a Hollywood movie is “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan’s character, sick with a cold or flu, gets a cup of tea, aided by Tom Hank’s character. The process consisted of pouring hot water from the whistling tea kettle into a mug and dunking in a bag. The bag was jerked up and down a few times (presumably to help the brewing process) and then left in the mug with the string and tag hanging over the side (most likely to be sure the audience that the mug contained tea, not coffee or other beverage).
Now, before I go further, it’s time for another confession: I used to think this was the way to make tea. Yes, it’s true. I was a bag dunker. I was also a bag squeezer (assuring that I got every drop of those bitter dregs). I was young. I was in college. I was unduly influenced by my addiction to Hollywood movies…
Then, I started watching British programs and movies. “To the Manor Born,” “Inspector Morse” (especially the episode “The Ghost in the Machine” where the hostess asks Morse if he wants Indian or Chinese), and “Monarch of the Glen,” to name a few. These showed a much different approach to tea. I saw a teapot that had been pre-warmed with hot water. I saw loose tea being spooned into a teapot that was then carried over to the stove where the kettle was just reaching a perfect boil. I saw the steaming water being poured in over those dried leaves, so full of flavor and the promise of a delightful taste experience. Epiphany! This was true tea enjoyment. This was true appreciation of a beverage that is cherished throughout the world, starting in China thousands of years ago. This was how I wanted to experience tea – not just as a bag full of fannings or dust (minute tea pieces left over after the dried tea leaves had been removed) dunked in hot water, with the string and tag left hanging over the side.
Of course, in British movies, tea is also portrayed as an integral part of life, not just something to have when one isn’t feeling well, the way Hollywood shows. (Remember the scene in “Working Girl” when Harrison Ford’s character offers a totally zonked out Melanie Griffith’s character a cup of tea because, as he says, it always sounds good to him when he’s in her condition?) Several British films made during or shortly after World War II show tea being readily available in railway station snack rooms and in tea rooms. The tea is usually already brewed and kept warm in a large dispenser (like a large coffee urn) with a spigot. Sugar and milk are routine additions. Something about this image seems very welcoming. To the British, nothing says hospitality like a good cup of tea.
Since I have switched to this more British attitude, I feel more hospitable, too. Try it out. Have a few friends over for tea and see if you don’t catch that feeling.
#2 – Tea in the Movies: “Gosford Park”
The portrayal of tea consumption in the movies varies widely. It ranges from a mere afterthought stuck in by a script writer to get the actors through a scene that isn’t working to a commentary on society or morality or some other supposedly lofty idea. The big tea scene in Gosford Park, a Robert Altman film from 2001, with an all-star cast, is a good example of the latter.
A quick rundown of the movie’s plot: various friends and family members are gathering at Gosford Park for a traditional English country sport called a shooting party where beaters scare pheasants out of the tall grass up into the air so they can be shot down again; some of the guests bring along their own servants (chauffeurs, maids, valets); you get to see about as much of the servants as you do of the aristocrats (something that sets this movie apart from others of its genre — the English country estate murder mystery); it turns out that a number of the guests and the servants have good reason to want Sir William McCordle (lord of the manor) dead, so when he is found thusly, there are a number of possible culprits; up pops Inspector Thomson (Stephen Fry) and his sergeant to bumble along and “investigate” the crime.
Here’s where the tea scene comes in.
Thomson questions various household members, including McCordle’s wife Sylvia. The scene ends up being not only comic relief but social commentary. Thomson starts to pour tea for Sylvia, but she stops him, saying that she prefers the milk being added last, not first. He bumbles along pouring her a new cup of tea and begins going on about how his wife likes the milk in first and how people have different tastes and “Well, you know how wives are.”
One reviewer on Amazon.com indicated that whether one puts the milk in first or last was some indication of his/her social status. The former were lowlifes and the latter were the elites, i.e., upper class. I don’t know if I agree with this. What was more telling was how Sylvia silently endures this bumbling detective — a sign of her aristocratic upbringing — while he is obviously of a lower social class, is uncomfortable around her, and chatters on nervously. While chuckle-inducing, it was also a bit painful to watch, all the more so since I like putting my milk in first and consider it the best way (for teas that I know well).
One thing is for sure — the scene can really draw in us tea lovers and make us either happy or wince.
#3 – Tea in the Movies: “All That Heaven Allows”
Time to look at another movie where a tea reference pops up — actually, it was a teapot, a Wedgwood teapot to be precise. The movie this time around was All That Heaven Allows (1955) with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. I’ve seen it a time or two before but hadn’t noticed the teapot or its symbolic significance in the story.
The teapot comes up about midway in the movie. Widow Cary Scott (Wyman) visits Ron Kirby’s (Hudson) tree farm as the attraction between them grows, despite the shock of her friends and the fact that he is younger and socially on a lower rung than she is. The old mill house is a mess at that time, but Ron tells Cary he will be fixing it up. She finds a broken Wedgwood teapot in light jasperware blue with cream bass relief. She says what a pity it’s broken and that the pieces didn’t seem to be all there. When she returns to the tree farm later in the movie, Ron has completed the renovations of the mill house and repaired the teapot like new. She picks it up, clearly delighted. They spend awhile enjoying a meal and the warm fire, but at the end she says that the relationship cannot be. As she puts on her coat to go, she knocks over the teapot, shattering it beyond repair.
Putting the pieces of that lovely teapot together is Ron’s symbol of their budding relationship that he sees as something wonderful and beautiful. When Cary shatters it, it symbolizes how she has shattered his hopes and dreams for their lives together, and probably her own dream of happiness with him, by telling him this was the end, based on the wishes of her children and friends. Her adult children are grown but can’t quite accept the relationship. Her social friends snicker at this “fling with a younger man” and can’t accept him into their circle. No tea party fun there.
The next time you see a lovely teapot, in a movie or in reality, remember that it can be more than just a great way to serve up that special beverage — tea! That teapot can hold hopes and dreams and can also symbolize their realization or their shattering. That teapot can, therefore, be either celebratory or consoling. Gotta love that versatiliTEA!
#4 – Tea in the Movies — “Three Strangers”
Being a bit of a movie buff, I tend to watch those black and white classics, and recently caught a very interesting tea connection in one of them. The movie Three Strangers had a rather oblique reference to something that lovers of fine teas would recognize quite readily.
The basic plot: A woman lures two strangers (both male) to her apartment to have them take part in a ritual. They all have to wish before a Chinese idol for the same thing, in this case it is to win a lottery. They then go their separate ways until the time for the lottery (actually, it’s a horse race but is called a lottery in the movie). During this interim period, the woman’s estranged husband who had left her comes back to ask for a divorce which she refuses to give, the first male stranger who is an estate attorney discovers that he is in deep water due to his squandering of a client’s estate and if found out will be ruined, and the second male stranger is a hood who was implicated in the murder of a night watchman and is hiding out from the police.
By the time the horse race is run, the woman has managed to chase away the woman her husband was leaving her to marry, the estate attorney was in an extreme state of desperation, and the hood was cleared of all charges in the murder. There is a climatic scene that I won’t spoil for you (and my apologies if I’ve said too much already) where that Chinese idol is treated in a most disrespectful manner. All in all a quirky and enjoyable movie.
And just who was this Chinese idol? None other than Kwan Yin (also spelled Kuan Yin). Do you see the tea connection? Read on.
Kwan Yin is better known as the “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” that is, the goddess who told the farmer to take the tea plant growing outside her temple and nurture it to make fine tea. Which he did.
Today, Ti Kwan Yin oolong is revered by tea drinkers young and old. Delivering a bit more body than green tea, Oolongs are semi-fermented and have a unique flavor. Also unlike green tea, Oolongs are not to be picked too early, or at too tender of a stage, and then produced immediately. Tea leaves destined to be used for Oolongs are wilted in the direct sun and are then shaken in tubular bamboo baskets to bruise the edges of the leaves – therefore, the edges oxidize faster than the center. After 15-25 minutes, the tea is fired, locking in that unique flavor.
For the best brew, Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong should steep in water that has been brought to a light boil (165-190° F) for 1-3 minutes. This premium grade tea can at first taste bitter, then sweet, and finishes with a fragrance that lingers on your palate. This tea is best enjoyed hot, and delivers a light cup with a pale green-yellow liquor.
Next time you’re watching one of those classic black-and-white movies, watch for the surprise tea reference. They pop up often when you least expect them. Enjoy!
#5 – Tea in the Movies — “The Verdict”
Nothing is better than cozying up on the sofa, a fresh pot of tea ready and at hand and piping hot scones nearby, and watching an old movie. Of course, seeing an interesting tea-related incident in that movie can add the perfect touch to that moment.
Hubby and I were all settled in and enjoying a movie that was part of a series filmed in the U.K. It was called The Verdict and was another pairing of Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (they were in quite a few together, including a true classic The Maltese Falcon). Suddenly, up popped that tea incident. John caught it first and I, being faster on the DVR remote, backed up the movie to the scene in question. Yes, there it was most definitely — a tea incident! And very educational.
Finally, thanks to this movie, we have discovered the real purpose of cozies. All this time we thought they were to keep the teapot warm or even to serve as an impromptu hat (as Billy Connolly claims them to be). But no, these uses were too ordinary, too mundane, too expected and “on the nose.” A tea cozy was neither for teapot warming nor headgear. The real purpose was one of those things that, once pointed out, you go “Gee, of course!”
Here it is: tea cozies are really meant to hide things!
In this movie, the cozy was used to hide a bottle of some rather strong libation (possibly whiskey or gin). It was quickly employed by the owner of a London boarding house when some of her lodgers came in as she was taking a nip. She needed that nip apparently, since they discovered that another of her lodgers was dead, stabbed, in a room locked from the inside. The cozy, no doubt, got a bit of a workout through the rest of the proceedings (although they didn’t show this) as the case was investigated. Cozy off. Take a nip. Cozy on. Cozy off…and so on.
Let’s see — a tea cozy to hide things! The possibilities here are endless. You could, for example, use it outside the front door instead of that fake rock that everyone recognizes instantly for hiding your spare key. The would-be burglar will be totally confused, think it’s teatime, and head home to put the kettle on. At least, I would!
See how educational these old movies can be? And all taken in while hubby and I enjoyed the congenial atmosphere of our double recliner, that pot of tea and those freshly-baked scones!
#6 – Tea in the Movies — “Séance on a Wet Afternoon”
Confession time: I don’t always “watch” movies. Often, they are background while I write, which means I glance at them now and then but usually just listen peripherally while my mind is busy thinking of clever things to say about tea. The “background” movie I had on the other day was Séance on a Wet Afternoon that was recorded on my DVR. I was delving into the intricacies of the latest tea topic on which I was writing and just happened to glance up and saw this (photographed from my TV):
Thank goodness for DVRs. I could pause the movie there and make sure I wasn’t projecting tea stuff onto the movie. Yep, it was really there. The man is one of the protagonists in the plot. And he had just ridden this iconic double-decker bus through the streets of London. Being a fan of Typhoo Tea, this caught my eye immediately. Talk about product placement (where companies work deals with movie directors to get their products on camera)! Actually, it’s hard to tell if this was done at the request of Typhoo or just happened that way.
The movie was filmed in 1964 (or possibly 1963, since it can be months or even years between filming and release to theaters), a big time in the history of the Typhoo company. They were packing more than 80 million pounds of tea annually and exporting to 40 countries worldwide. Company leadership had a big change, too, when J. R. Hugh Sumner, aged 80, retired and Managing Director H. C. Kelley became the new Chairman. A few years later, Typhoo entered into talks with the well-known soft drinks firm Schweppes, and announced on 24 January 1968 that they were joining Schweppes’ old Food Division to form Typhoo Schweppes. A year later, Cadbury’s joined in and they became Cadbury Schweppes Typhoo. Not sure that would have fit on the bus shown above!
In 1999 Typhoo became the first tea brand to introduce a green tea blend to the UK market. In 2004 they launched Typhoo Fruit and Herb. Quite frankly, though, their original black tea blend remains my fave, and considering recent reports touting the equality of health benefits from black and green teas, it’s best to stick with what I like and will therefore drink.
Back to the movie, I must confess that this was a plodding, dragging, crashing bore. And I hate movies where someone is kidnapped. However, being a British film, they have scenes peppered throughout where the characters are doing rather dastardly things while engaging in the extremely normal activities of pouring and drinking tea. The lead characters discuss the child they have kidnapped over a pot of tea. Chilling! And in another scene, she is putting the kettle on and lighting the gas burner while they discuss that the child feels a little hot (as in “running a bit of a temperature”). Quite a row going on as that kettle heats. But that’s one of the good things about tea — it’s like an island of normalcy in what can be a churning sea of life!
I’ll try to pick a more soothing “background” movie next time, since this one ended up being a bit of a distraction for my writing. Sigh!
#7 – Tea in the Movies — “If Winter Comes”
Another great tea moment popped up in a movie I was watching a little while ago. Maybe as I have evolved into a more involved tea drinker, I am just noticing these things more. Whatever the case, I sat up and took notice of the tea moment in “If Winter Comes.”
This is another of those movies set in the early days of World War II, with the main character (“Mark Sabre” portrayed by Walter Pigeon) being unable to join the fighting for Britain due to a bad heart. But while his heart was physically bad, it was emotional very giving. He took pity on a young woman who was pregnant by a young man who had gone off to war. Her father kicked her out, so Sabre took her in. His wife did not appreciate this and moved out, taking her furniture (received as a wedding present from her father) with her. As things seemed their darkest, along came this line:
Think of all the great decisions that have been made in this world over a cup of tea.
Wow! Take a moment and reread that. I’ll wait…
Okay, all done? Time to think about some great decision that you’ve made over a cup of tea. Here are some of mine:
- Chose the right shade of blue to paint the walls of the Dining Room (actually, the top half of the walls above the chair railing, since we wanted another color below the chair railing).
- Decided whether hubby and I should go out to a movie, and suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous sound system that would shatter our eardrums, or whether twas nobler to stay home and watch a DVD we both enjoyed and have the sound at the right level for us. (We stayed home! Sorry, Shakespeare, for that lousy quote.)
- Decided not to cut those daffodils in the garden for a bouquet on the table but instead let them stay in that garden and possibly get flattened by an impending storm (they survived).
- Best of all, decided where to move once our previous house sold!
Yes, indeed, tea gets those brain cells chugging along and making all kinds of decisions faster and more decisively. Give it a try and see how it goes for you!
#8 – Tea in the Movies — “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”
A classic novel often gets made into a movie, and some get made into movies more than once. Such is it with Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Time to steep up a classic tea and take a gander at what is to me the best version.
First, the tea. We need one worthy of such a portrayal of life in an English boarding school for boys (said to have been the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novel series). It has to be rich, full-bodied, and with a flavor that lasts from that first “golden pour” to that final cupful. The one that immediately springs to mind is Scottish Breakfast — that favorite both of me and my hubby but also to many other imbibers of the second most popular beverage on the planet after water.
The kettle is on, the DVD is queued up to our favorite tea scene in the movie (actually, the first of two), and we’ve opened up a fresh package of Mr Kipling Bakewell Slices. All is ready. Once the tea is steeped, we pour out a cuppa each and hit the “Play” button.
The basic story, for those who may not know it, is of a man (Mr. Chipping aka “Mr. Chips”) who takes the post of instructor of Latin at a boy’s boarding school in England. He gets off to a rocky start and almost leaves, making enemies of his pupils over keeping the star player away from a key cricket match. But he “gets on” as he says. A few years later, he and another instructor take a holiday in the Alps and meet two women touring. One of them is a beautiful young woman with whom he falls in love and then marries. He brings her back to the school with everyone expecting his wife to be rather plain and dowdy. Her beauty, charm, and lively spirit win their hearts. Now here comes that wonderful tea scene.
Her first day at the school, she invites his pupils to their quarters for afternoon tea. They are gathered around, drinking cups of tea and finishing off cakes and buns and other treats. Suddenly, they are all laughing and happy and seeing their days at the school and “Mr. Chips” in a whole new light. And Mr. Chipping lightens up, too, encouraged by his wife to use the wit she sees in him as a way to liven up those Latin classes. Sadly, Mrs. Chipping dies, but he goes on without her in body but with her in spirit. Time for that second wonderful tea scene.
It’s decades later, a world war has come and gone, Mr. Chipping had served as headmaster but is now very old and retired. He lives comfortably in a little house not too far from the school. As a prank, two older boys encourage a first year boy to go up to his front door, ring the bell, and tell Mr. Chips he had come as expected. “Chips” invites the boy in, fully aware of the trick the older boys were trying to play, and tells him he’s just in time for tea. There before the crackling wood fire is a table laden with a teapot and a wonderful iced cake. He shares this with the boy, learning that he is the latest in a long line of boys from that same family who have attended that school. The tea time ends with one of the most heart-tugging scenes in moviedom. The boy thanks him for the tea, says he needs to get back and isn’t afraid of the new school anymore, pauses at the front door, and looks totally angelic as he says, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips!”
Excuse me while I grab a tissue here…that scene always gets me…
Well, the pot is empty and all the Bakewells have been eaten, so I guess it’s good that the movie is over. Time to get back to the day’s activities and plan the next tea movie viewing.
#9 – Tea in the Movies — “Around the World in 80 Days”
Tea in the movies is a real requirement when any of the characters are British. At least, that’s how it seems. So, tea being portrayed as an essential ingredient in a civilized life comes as no surprise in a movie adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel Around the World in 80 Days.
My favorite version of the movie was the one from 1956 (except for Shirley MacLaine as an Indian princess – totally unbelievable, but I guess no real Indian actresses were available at that time). The cameo roles are done by a Who’s Who list of Hollywood luminaries of that day. But of course David Niven is the standout as Phileas Fogg, a very proper English gent. I have it on DVD but ended up watching it on satellite when it came up on the schedule. It’s just easier to switch channels than switch the TV to DVD view, turn on the player, take out the disc and put it in the player. Phew! I’m worn out just writing that!
Since this is about a very proper English gent (and his very not-so-proper valet Passepartout), two activities are of utmost importance, even in his race against the clock while traveling around the world. One is the card game whist. The other is — can you guess? — tea time!
As Fogg puts it, “Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea!” So, be it sailing along in a big basket hanging beneath a hot air balloon that suddenly starts sinking or riding an elephant through thick jungle in India or bumping along in a train through the western U.S., nothing interfered with tea.
I mention all this not just because I like the movie, especially when enjoyed with a large pot of tea, but because there are many people out there claiming that they have no time for tea. Considering the advances in travel technology since Verne penned this book, you can now get around the world in about 2 days (per this source). So, that leaves 78 days for tea. Except that Fogg had tea even while traveling. Plus you have a lot of timesaving devices that should be giving you more time for tea. From electric tea kettles that boil water seconds faster to clothes washers to lawnmowers, the mundane tasks are now done faster and better. But wait — along with the timesavers came the time fillers: TVs, radios, computers, video games, movies… uh, wait, that last one is very worthwhile, especially when part of your tea time.
Maybe it’s time to make better use of the timesavers, less use of the time fillers, and have more time to enjoy a leisurely tea time! (Say that three times fast!)
#10 – Tea in the Movies — “Amadeus”
Hollywood (translation: people who make movies with the primary intention of earning big bucks) tends to portray tea in a less than favorable light. A good example is from the award-winning (but not for tea) movie “Amadeus” (1984).
First, this movie is pure drama with a pinch of reality thrown in here and there. There really was a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There really was an Italian composer named Antonio Salieri. From there the movie takes the fiction fork in the road, leaving the fact fork far behind. Setting such artistic license aside, we get to the big “tea scene” in the movie.
Picture this: “Wolfie” has, with the blessing of his patron and monarch Emperor Joseph II (known as the musical king), married his landlady’s daughter named Constanze (“Stanzie”) Weber. Papa Mozart is not pleased and rushes from Salzburg where he lives to Vienna where his son lives. He shows up at the apartment to find it less than pristine, his son just getting home from a night of hanging out with musical friends, and “Stanzie” still in bed. Embarrassed, “Wolfie” admonishes his wife that it’s time to get up. She comes out of the bedroom, still disheveled, and offers Papa Mozart some tea. Now, here comes that sly Hollywood zinger:
Constanze: [to Mozart’s father] May I offer you some tea, Herr Mozart?
Wolfgang: Tea? Who wants tea? Let’s go out! This calls for a feast. You don’t want tea, do you, Papa?
Wolfgang: I know, let’s go dancing! Papa loves parties, don’t you?
Wolfgang: What? How can you be so boring? Tea…
I realize this scene is intended to show that “Wolfie” was a bit loose with his money, something that was reiterated in a later scene, and that he liked to enjoy life to the fullest. However, to denigrate tea by in essence saying that tea drinking was boring is unworthy of such a musical genius. But it is fairly typical of Hollywood. Tea is portrayed at once as the magic cure-all and the beverage of choice of those whose personalities are several levels below milquetoast.
Hollywood is way off the mark there. The personalities of tea folk I have met are far from such limpness. They are bright, energetic, even sparkling. They are strongly opinionated, stand up for their beliefs, and otherwise exhibit what is commonly called “hutzpah”!
While the movie itself is overall entertaining, despite its only marginal relationship to reality, don’t let it leave you with this downer impression of us tea drinkers. We are, contrary to Hollywood’s casting of us, quite the lively bunch. Hooray!
#11 – Tea in the Movies — “Act One”
Time to see how tea plays a role in another movie. This one is called “Act One,” based on the autobiography of playwright Moss Hart who gained fame on Broadway. The movie is interesting for seeing the dedication and effort that art takes but also for how the term “tea party” is being used.
Young playwright wannabe Moss Hart (ably portrayed by a young, handsome, and untanned George Hamilton) had spent four years writing serious dramas, hoping to get one produced on Broadway. But his agent sees that Hart might be better at comedy. He drafts a comedy and sends it to Warren Stone, a big shot Broadway producer who claims interest but never follows through. Meanwhile, a friend brings the play to the attention of George S. Kaufman’s agent, who brings it to Kaufman’s attention. Hart then begins collaborating with Kaufman on the play for producing on Broadway. They are working in Kaufman’s home in his private office on the third floor. All day long they go through the grueling task of trying to be funny (it’s harder than you’d think). After awhile, Kaufman’s wife invites Hart to join her and George at a “tea party” she is giving later that day.
The year, by the way, is 1929 and Prohibition is in full effect. As such, other avenues are used to obtain alcoholic beverages, so the “tea” at this “tea party” wasn’t tea — wink, wink!
A few years back the term “tea party” began being used in a very un-tea party like fashion. Many serious tea folk objected. Some stated that it messed up online searches where the results for “tea party” kept popping up these non-tea items. Some disagreed with the people who were using the term and thought the whole concept of a tea party was forever being tainted (sort of a guilt by association kind of thing). Well, there is some merit in their concerns and yet in some ways those concerns are overdone. Online searches for “tea” and “tea party” pop up all kinds of strange things, not just this one particular usage that’s being found objectionable. As for that “guilt by association,” if we use the term “tea party” for its legitimate purpose, that will hopefully overshadow any misuse.
As for that movie, I’ll excuse the use of “tea party” for their occasion of secretly consuming definitely non-tea beverages. Anyone knowing the situation would not be fooled and actually expect tea in that cup! Another instance of tea in the movies being somewhat educational.
More Tea Scenes in the Movies…
There are many more tea scenes in movies. We hope this has just alerted you to watch for them. When you find some, please feel free to post here in a comment.
© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text