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Wikimedia Commons

Where Does Tea Time Come From?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Few things are more British than afternoon tea. Despite the close association, the beverage was enjoyed for more than twenty years in France before it migrated across the English Channel.

Tea-lightful

Until the nineteenth century, British citizens ate two main meals — breakfast and dinner. Dinner wasn’t served until late evening, so most citizens went many hours between meals.

Around 1840, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, began complaining of faintness in the mid-afternoon. At first, the noblewoman would privately consume a pot of tea and a light snack in her personal quarters. Later that summer, she began inviting friends to dine with her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey.

When the summer ended, Russell continued this meal in London during the social season. Here, other hostesses picked up the practice. As it became popular, teatime moved from private quarters to the drawing room. After a while, most of London’s social scene would be drinking tea and eating a light snack in the afternoon.

Revolutionary drinks

Until tea became popular, beer was the daytime drink of choice for the lower class. Since beer is produced with boiled water and antiseptic hops, it was a safer drink than the unsanitary water. At the time, drinking alcohol was a social ritual, a vital source of calories, an escape for the working classes.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold, workers were expected to stay sober during their long workdays at the factory. During the same time, the temperance movement was gaining steam, and more people were turning to “temperance drinks” like coffee, tea, and chocolate.

High Tea?

Though many tea shops call the light, casual afternoon snack “high tea,” they’re misusing the term. High tea actually refers to the slightly heavier meal enjoyed around 5 or 6 at night, usually by the working class during the Industrial Revolution. This meal was often taken during the factories’ longest break of the day – the tea break.

For many workers, high tea was a vital source of caffeine and calories. Since it helped workers to get through long work days, some historians credit the tea break for the spike in productivity that happened during this era. The name is thought to be derived from the high, formal dinner tables it was served on.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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