Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical Watercolour


Who invented high tea?

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

Have you ever wondered who invented high tea? Or is that afternoon tea? I think it depends where you are from. And either way, thank heavens they did!

High tea is a rather glorious tradition. Dainty sandwiches and delicate baked morsels accompanied by carefully brewed tea from a pot and drunk out of a proper tea cup and saucer. This to me is the modern version of high tea. A decadent outing to a swanky hotel for a smorgasbord of old fashioned high sugar, labour intensive, “unhealthy” and therefore luxurious treats. And frankly about the only time that most people would drink tea from a cup and saucer as opposed to a mug.

Who invented high tea arttally tea time series

It is Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford who is widely credited with transforming afternoon tea into a meal while visiting Belvoir Castle in the mid 1840s. However there is some debate about this as food historians document evidence of tea being recognised as a meal while Anna was still young, not yet a Duchess and not yet as influential as she was to become.

At around this time, the evening meal was being served later and later. In the early 19th century dinner has been documented as being served at between 7pm and 8:30pm. Luncheon, served around midday was very light. As a result, by 4 or 5 pm everyone was a little peckish. A few baked morsels alongside a fortifying cup of tea was a perfect solution.

In some parts of England, Ireland and Scotland, high tea describes the evening meal for the lower working classes. ‘High’, in this case meaning well advanced, ie later in the day than afternoon tea. It is sometimes called tea time or meat tea. It would usually consist of a hot dish, or perhaps some cold meats, followed by cakes, bread, butter and jam.

Outside of this group, what is called high tea nowadays, harks back to the decadent social occasion that was the Duchess of Bedford's afternoon tea.

The Duchess of Bedford was a friend of Queen Victoria, and a social celebrity. Afternoon tea was a ritual of the Victorian Age. An opportunity to socialise and network. To tell stories and enjoy conversation. Of course, a ritual with rules and etiquette, demanding politeness and decorum. A place for political agendas, scandal, gossip and rumour too, no doubt.

The upper and then middle classes mirrored the behaviour of the celebrities of their time, like Anna Russell and Queen Victoria, as and when tea became more affordable for them. So whether or not Anna 'invented' high tea she certainly played a part in its evolution.

Afternoon tea to me, means a cup of tea and a bicky or two. Perhaps a slice of cake. And most certainly, a good chat. High tea is a decadent special occasion at a fancy hotel.  Most probably including champagne. All tea rituals are rather charming I think.  I can't be the only one as they have been around for centuries. Good rituals endure.

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Is a woman like a tea bag?

Fave quotationsKerrie Woodhouse

When I first read this quote  - apparently from Eleanor Roosevelt... I loved it. Then I thought about it a bit more.... Is a woman like a tea bag? Hmmm ... do I really want to be compared to a tea bag? Not sure about that, thanks, Eleanor!

is a woman like a teabag arttally tea time series

This quotation is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt but without citing which original writing it actually came from. Then others attribute a very similar quotation to Nancy Reagan:

"A woman is like a teabag — only in hot water do you realize how strong she is." - Nancy Reagan The Observer (29 March 1981)

Well yes, Ladies. We are definitely strong - I'll give you that. And I appreciate the sentiment although I would prefer to be compared to something more shapely and less disposable, to be honest.

Although, Eleanor Roosevelt often gets the credit for the remark it has apparently been around for many years. Or at least variants of the saying. The Quote Investigator believes that in the 19th century similar adages featuring eggs and potatoes and hot water were evident in Irish papers.

I guess it is something we have known for a long time, which applies to all of us - not just the women.

We don't necessarily realise how strong we are until we are tested.

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Tea and lettering

Beginner Resources, My art journeyKerrie Woodhouse

If you love tea, and quotes and doodling it doesn't take long before you put them all together.

Tea and lettering for no 14 in the tea time series

If you think you would like to have a go at doodling some letters - and why wouldn't you? Its easy, fun and doesn't require that you know how to draw!... Anyway, if you wanted to have a go, I recommend checking out one of my favourite online teachers Joanne Sharpe. She has several lettering classes available. Joanne has a delightful manner and her classes are accessible and broken down into short managable video lessons.

I have written about her before, so if you want to find out more about her classes you might want to read this next.

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Earl Grey Tea - love it or hate it?

Fascinating factsphoenixarttally

Today’s teapot in my teatime series turned out to be rather elegant, I think. Stylish. So what else could I write about today, but Earl Grey tea? It is an elegant, stylish tea. It has stood the test of time and seems to evoke strong reactions. What is your reaction - love it or hate it?

Earl Grey Tea love it or hate it

Unsurprisingly, the history of Earl Grey tea starts in Britain. Charles Grey was an English aristocrat and Prime Minster from 1830 to 1834. He also had 6 daughters and 10 sons. (… so what exactly is in Earl Grey Tea again….??)

The characteristic flavour of Earl Grey tea comes from the addition of bergamot. Bergamot is a mediterranean citrus. Some stories say that bergamot and tea were shipped together once and the flavours of the fruit mingled happily with the tea. Others say a Chinese friend of the Earl blended the tea with the citrus to counteract the mineral taste of the water in his home - Howick Hall in Northumberland, England. Yet another story suggests that Earl Charles Grey was given the recipe for the tea when he saved the son of a tea blender in China from drowning.

In reality, no one knows exactly how or why Earl Grey became associated with the tea. But it has certainly stuck. It is possible that more people know Earl Grey for his namesake tea than for abolishing slavery during his time in office!

Like all teas, Earl Grey is loved for its many health benefits, mostly from its natural antioxidants. Bergamot is also thought to be beneficial. So choosing Earl Grey today might just help guard against heart disease. Bergamot contains contains enzymes known as HMGF (hydroxy methyl glutaryl flavonones) which can attack proteins in the body known to cause heart disease.

Earl Grey has lovers, of course… like Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code, Captain Picard in Star Trek, and Q in Skyfall. But then there are the haters. Not me, to be sure. I can’t say I agree with the sentiment but, if you have 1 minute and 47 seconds to spare check out Kenny Enda’s song for a bit of a giggle!

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You won't believe the size of the world's largest teapot collection

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

I love a quirky teapot. I'm not the only one apparently. In fact, you wont believe the size of the largest teapot collection in the world...

For a while I was in danger of becoming something of a teapot collector. Collectors fascinate me - but I am not sure I am one of them. Combining obsession and shopping seemed a slippery slope for me.  And then there is the dusting, of course. At last... the triumph of practicality over whimsy.

largest teapot collection

But teapot collecting seems to actually be a Thing. Who knew? Not me... bet my husband is somewhat relieved that I didnt know this... There are even instructions about how to begin a teapot collection.

In Kent, there is a lady called Sue Blayze who clearly has no need of such a set of instructions. Sue Blayze turned her 7000 strong teapot collection into a tea museum.  It is aptly named Teapot Island, and even received a royal visit from Charles and Camilla.

7000 teapots? That impressed me. It was enough to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004.  In 2011 however, the record was taken apparently controversially by someone in China with a collection of 30 000 teapots.

Part of the fascination with teapots is that they sit at the intersection of art, craft and social history. They offer insight into world culture and the history of ceramics.

As far as  basic design goes, the teapot has hardly changed in 300 years.  Some might have feet, (like my own favourite  - the one I painted earlier this month) some might be shaped as frogs, but they all still tend to feature a pot, a spout, a lid, and a handle.

The original design is thought to be based on wine ewers from China or Islamic coffee pots.  The first ceramic teapots were heavy and broke easily.  Chinese porcelain pots were brought in by the East India company until 1791.  William Cookworthy established a ceramic works in Plymouth and the industrial revolution brought continued improvement in the quality of the ceramics. Tough, durable bone China was created in the 19th century and was perfect for tea pots and cups.

An avid historical teapot collector would know that the size of tea pots has increased over time - particularly once William Pitt's government cut the tax on tea. Until then, the most popular drink in the UK was ale, but between reduced tax on tea and weak grain harvests the general population started to consume more tea than ale.

So get out your teapot - whether it is shaped like Buckingham palace, or looks like it belongs in a Chinese restaurant. Whatever its shape or size... tea definitely tastes better from a teapot.

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A gluten free Irish Tea Cake with your very own signature

RecipesKerrie Woodhouse

I have been thinking a lot about tea and traditions this week. And it seems to me that you can't get much more traditional than a grandmotherly fruit cake. One of my favourite fruit cakes is this gluten free Irish Tea Cake. It is based on a traditional Irish cake which is sometimes called a barmbrack if it is served around Halloween time. For the festivities it would also have had trinkets baked inside like a ring, or a coin.

gluten free irish tea cake

I have no idea if I am correct or not, but in my head I think of barmbrack as being more of a yeasted bread with fruit in it.  This is most definitely a cake - no yeast, no fuss. It couldn't really be much easier because you don't even need a mixer.  You do want to start the night before, however.

Preliminary preparations - the night before

  • In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the following ingredients
    • 1 cup (250ml) black tea
    • 2/3 cup brown sugar
    • 375g packet of mixed fruit
    • Leave overnight to soak so that the fruit absorbs most of the tea

The next day

  • Preheat the oven to 160C
  • Line the base and sides of a loaf tin with baking paper
  • Add 1 large egg (gently beaten with a fork to break it up) to the fruit and tea mixture and mix together
  • Stir in:
    • 1 cup  gluten free self raising flour (I choose White Wings brand if possible)
    • 1/2 cup of almond meal
    • Tip into the prepared tin and sprinkle a few chopped nuts (I like pecans) over the top of the loaf to be a bit fancy.... (or don't  - its up to you!)
    • Bake for 90 minutes
  • Once it is cool, serve it in thick, buttered slices... next to a lovely cup of tea.  This loaf lasts well and is rather good toasted too.

What's your signature ingredient?

This cake also gives you the chance to put your spin on it. Your very own signature ingredient. Stir something quirky into the batter before you bake it.

Some chocolate chips, perhaps?

Orange zest?

10ml of Chinese five spice?

50ml whisky?

Oh yes... the whisky... start with that.

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The comfort of tea is enough to inspire the poets

Fave quotationsKerrie Woodhouse

I have to say, drawing tea pots is fun. Especially if those tea pots have feet. This is actually one of my very own tea pots, a favourite for sure.

the comfort of tea is enough to inspire the poets

And to go alongside my cute teapot, I would like to share some rather cute poems. The first was written circa 1670. Tea has been comforting us for centuries - to the point that poets have been inspired to write about it. None of these poems has a title, but they are all rather apt, I feel. They acknowledge the benefit and comfort tea brings as well as its fairly illustrious history.

Tea that helps our head and heart.
Tea medicates most every part.
Tea rejuvenates the very old.
Tea warms the hands of those who’re cold.
— J. Jonker, Amsterdam, circa 1670
Steam rises from a cup of tea
and we are wrapped in history,
inhaling ancient times and lands,
comfort of ages in our hands.
— Faith Greenbowl
The cozy fire is bright and gay,
The merry kettle boils away
and hums a cheerful song.
I sing the saucer and the cup;
Pray, Mary, fill the teapot up,
And do not make it strong
— Barry Pain

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Is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese?

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

Tea is such a British institution.

But is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese? I think, perhaps it just might be.

The very first account of tea was recorded by Samuel Pepys. Pepys was a naval administrator and Member of Parliament whose diary has become a most important source of British history. In 1660, Pepys notes that he sent for a cup of tea - a new drink from China. Tea probably entered England by ship, from Amsterdam, thanks to the Dutch East India Company.

In spite of the timeline, it is usually not Samuel Pepys who is thought of as introducing tea to England. That title goes to the wife of King Charles II. Catherine of Braganza was born into the most senior noble house of Portugal and was the Queen of England Scotland and Ireland from 1662 to 1685.

is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese

Tea reached Portugal in the 16th century, being first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China. Catherine of Braganza was an established tea drinker when she married King Charles II. Her dowry included a chest of tea!

It was Catherine’s tea drinking habits that strongly influenced the aristocracy. In place of wine, ale and spirits, tea gradually became the court drink. Before long, drinking tea became universal among the English upper class. Tea was soon being sold in markets, and became a part of the regular trade of the English East India Company.

She was an interesting woman, Catherine. A devout, but private Catholic. She did not bear any heirs and had several miscarriages. She spent her life separated from her family and had to contend with her husband’s many mistresses. Her inability to produce an heir brought Charles under pressure to divorce Catherine - but he did not. He is said to have sided with her against his mistresses and insisted that she be treated with respect. (Do as I say and not as I do, perhaps….?)

It doesn’t sound too terrific for poor old Catherine, does it? But, as they always say…

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea and that’s kind of the same thing

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16 reasons why tea is good for you

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

I don't need any encouraging to drink tea. But if I did, there are at least 16 reasons why tea is good for you:

  1. Anti ageing. Thanks to the polyphenols in tea your daily cuppa provides anti oxidants to protect the body from the ravaging effects of time
  2. Healthy teeth. Tea contains fluoride and tannins which fight plaque
  3. Anti stress. Cortisol is the stress hormone that contributes to belly fat and makes your skin age quicker. One recent study suggested four cups of tea per day may make your cortisol levels spike less.
  4. Lower cholesterol. Green tea has been found to reduce the level of total serum cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol. Tea is thought to work by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol from the large intestine.
  5. Better memory, focus and concentration. According to extensive research the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine, a naturally-occurring amino acid found in tea, improves reaction time and memory, while simulataneously increasing focus and concentration. So tea drinking (especially white tea) is easier than meditating but gives similar results. Hurrah.
  6. Increased Metabolism. Apparently you can burn 70 to 80 additional calories by drinking five cups of green tea per day.
  7. Anti allergen. Quercetin, which is a flavonol naturally-occurring in tea is known to mitigate histamine response. Tea also contains the polyphenol, EGCG, which may be helpful for reducing pollen allergies.
  8. Boosts endurance. Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins which have been found to improve the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel. This greater efficiency means improved muscle endurance.
  9. Calorie free. So few pleasures in life are actually calorie free, but tea is (unless you start adding sugar and milk!
  10. Strong Bones. Green tea has been found to improve bone mineral density and strength. It is thought that this may be the work of tea's many beneficial phytochemicals.
  11. Eyesight. Studies have shown that drinking tea can help to prevent the blindness caused by cataracts (the clouding of the lens inside the eye). Anti oxidants, which we know can be provided by tea have been found in eye tissue.
  12. Parkinson's Disease. Studies have shown that drinking tea is associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in both men and women
  13. Hydration. There was a school of thought that suggested that tea should not be considered as part of our daily fluid intake. Luckily, this is no longer thought to be the case. Our tea does hydrate us.
  14. Radiation. Tea has been found to help the body recover from radiation. It has been shown to protect against cellular degeneration upon exposure to radiation, as well as helping the skin bounce back after exposure to radiation.
  15. Anti Cancer. Research on this is mixed, but some studies show that the anti oxidants in tea might be helpful in fighting a whole raft of cancers.
  16. Alzheimer’s Disease. We already know that tea has a positive effect on memory and concentration thanks to those polyphenols. As we age, drinking tea helps to lower the risk of dementia by acting through multiple pathways, including those of nerve synapses and blood sugar regulation.
16 reasons why tea is good for you

Convinced yet? Time to get the kettle on!

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Discover the different types of tea - true tea, that is...

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

There are so very many different types of tea available these days. However, purists say there are only 4 true teas. A true tea is made from the leaves of the tea bush or Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are infusions of the leaves, roots or buds of other plants like peppermint, chamomile, ginger and rosehip. Stay tuned for more on those next week…

different types of tea arttally

The four true teas are:

1.White Tea

White tea, comes from the buds and youngest leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The beverage itself is not white or colourless but pale yellow and light in taste. It derives its name from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which gives the plant a whitish appearance.

White tea is the most subtle, delicate and complex of the teas because it is the least processed. The tea leaves are simply steamed and then dried. White tea has very little caffeine, 1-2% as much caffeine content as one cup of coffee.

2.Green Tea

To make green tea, the Camellia sinensis leaves are picked, dried, and heat-treated to prevent fermentation of the loose leaves. After moisture is removed through the heat treatment, the tea leaves are typically rolled and dried again before they are ready for use.

The heat treatment of green tea varies. For Chinese green tea the leaves are roasted in a hot roasting pan. This gives Chinese green tea a toasted taste and a yellow-green colour. In Japan, green tea is made by steaming the leaves. Japanese green tea has a grassy taste and is dark green in colour.

3.Black Tea

Black tea is a fully fermented variety of tea from the Camellia sinensis plant. To make black tea, the leaves are withered and rolled. They then undergo a long period of fermentation. Once fermented,the black tea leaves are fired. This natural oxidation process gives the the black tea its characteristic complex flavour and colour.

4.Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is similar to green tea. However, after the tea leaves are picked, they are intentionally bruised by shaking. While the leaves are drying, the edges of the bruised leaves turn reddish in color and the surface becomes light yellow due to fermentation and oxidation. After some fermentation period the tea leaves are pan fired to create a semi-fermented tea.

The fermentation period can vary producing slightly different results. Chinese oolong tea is fermented only long enough to achieve 12-20% fermentation and results in a lighter oolong. Taiwanese oolong teas are fermented for longer, resulting in 60-70% fermentation. This gives Taiwanese oolong tea a stronger flavour.

There is a lot of choice when it comes to tea. Wherever your preferences lie, it seems that tea is a beverage we can happily enjoy, as each of the different types of tea offers some health benefit. But that is a subject for another day….

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Gluten Free Lemon Tea Cake - the best accompaniment to a cup of tea

RecipesKerrie Woodhouse

It is a very small leap for me,  from tea to cake. And what sort of cake goes best with a cup of tea? Well, just about any to be frank, but my favourite is this gluten free lemon tea cake.

There is much to recommend about this recipe. Most importantly, its very quick and easy. Almost as important it's lactose and gluten free... otherwise I would not be able to eat it!

In a very short space of time and with very few ingredients you have alongside your cup of tea, a tender sponge with a sprightly lemon icing.


If you have need of such an accompaniment to your lovely cup of tea, proceed thusly:

Preliminary preparations

  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Line the base of a 20cm cake tin with paper and give the sides of the tin a quick spray of olive oil (if you can be bothered... I'm not sure this is strictly necessary.)

Gather the ingredients:

  • 120g dairy free spread
  • 120g soft brown sugar or raw caster sugar
  • 150 g gluten free self raising flour (I choose White Wings brand if possible)
  • 2 eggs ( I use the biggest I can find)
  • finely grated zest of a lemon
  • a splash (15ml) of soy milk or water


  • Place all of these ingredients in the mixer and mix on low for 30 seconds (to avoid the flour shower) and then on high for a minute or two until the batter is smooth and glossy.
  • spread into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  • remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack


Mix 180g pure icing sugar with enough lemon juice (from the lemon you zested earlier)  to make a smooth icing of a soft dropping consistency.  Go slowly adding the juice, too much and it will be too drizzly, too little and you will have a hard time spreading it. If the consistency is right it spreads itself most obligingly over the top of the cake and stays there. Marvellous.

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Who made the first cup of tea?

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

Did you ever wonder who made the first cup of tea?

Tea (and indeed tea time) is very close to my heart. In fact, so much so that it is the subject of my series for the month of July - Tea time!

The first thing I have learned, in my research of this delightful topic is that tea might just have been a happy accident.

Legend has it, that the Chinese emperor Shennong, was the first person to may a cup of tea - way back in 2737 BC.  Apparently, the emperor was sitting beneath a Camellia sinensis tree while his servant boiled drinking water. Some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shennong, who was a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created. The resulting drink was what we now call tea.


Shennong is also known as the Emperor of the Five Grains. He was a legendary ruler of China and a cultural hero. Shennong is thought to have taught the ancient Chinese not only their practices of agriculture, but also the use of herbal drugs. Some say that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself. Legend has it that the god of agriculture would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs. If he consumed a poisonous plant, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison.

So tea might well have been a happy accident. But thanks to that accident we continue to enjoy tea all over the world thousands and thousands of years later.

Artists know all about happy accidents. Sometimes I think the happy accident is really our stock in trade. It is a willingness to experiment. An allowing. Being open to what is. Making the most of what you have. So many reasons art is just practice for life.

So why not make a cup of tea, get out some art supplies and see what happy accidents you come up with?

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