Making Tea

Us McDonalds, we like tea.  We drink a lot, a LOT, of tea.  Maybe not as much as Louise from Yorkshire but still a lot.  I recently had two weeks leave over Christmas and New Year and in 13 days I reckon I swallowed about 50 cups of tea.  We also had about 30 people through the flat over that time and while not all of them drank tea – some drank coffee and others just plain hot water – those that did had different ways of making it.

Our way – the right way – is a well established ritual laid down over almost 80 years.  Both sets of grandparents had Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea.  The Bates side tended to use mugs or beakers while the McDonalds had cups and saucers.  Both set a tray, used a teapot with a cosy, had a sugar bowl and individual teaspoons.  Special occasions on both sides demanded cups and saucers. (Also, the fact that many of us have worked for Cape Town City Council might have something to do with it.)

The immediate family was a little more relaxed but there was still a way to “have tea”.   The tea must be hot hence the cosy.  There were outcries if the cosy was forgotten although I think they mainly came from Dad.  The pot must also be warmed before making the tea with a little boiling water from the kettle.  Again outcries, again Dad, if it wasn’t done.  Then 2 bags of Five Roses in the warmed pot and the boiling water poured.  Our metal pots (the small one – 2 cupper – and the big one – 5 cupper – both now retired) had untouchable handles if properly done.  Another good reason for the cosy.  Then five cups with a choice of medium and large and a shared teaspoon.  Milk in a plastic sachet in a jug and the sugar bowl with ladel.  Milk was always poured first into four of the cups.  A finger each for Mom, Ross and Kevin.  Bruce got three fingers as he likes it milky.  Dad has his black.  A ladel of sugar each except Dad although in recent years he has taken to having a few granules to take away the bitterness of the tannins.  I am sure that ladel has been responsible for most of the tooth fillings in our family.  The remainder were possibly due to koeksusters or condensed milk or bad tooth hygiene or something.  Maybe mince pies.

If it was a working tea – i.e. we were playing cricket on the lawn or watching it on TV – then it was taken downstairs in the playroom.  If it was an after dinner or special tea then it was upstairs in the lounge.  Either way, the tray had to be set, the pot warmed and a cosy used.

There was also an unspoken signal that emanated from somewhere that told us when to pour the tea.  Tea always has to brew for a period to ensure that special reaction (“Aaah”) when sitting back with the perfect cup.  Often it was Mom: “That tea is going to be poison if you don’t pour it soon” (possibly why Bruce likes his weak and milky), or one of those silences that occurs on the quarter hour in any conversation.  Once it was poured and everyone had settled back with a suitable biscuit or scone or piece of fudge there was a collective, appreciative sigh as the first sip of tea was savoured.


5 thoughts on “Making Tea”

  1. As a McDonald myself and having 20 years experience making tea in the McDonald household, I could not have explained this any better.
    One point to add is, that over the Wimbledon tennis fortnight, the number of cups of tea prepared, poured and drunk would increase to an almost impossible level. Just when you think you couldn’t have another cup, Mom would tell us that she “has boiled the kettle”. This would be a sign for the one of us to head off to the kitchen and prepare the Tray, and bring it downstairs to be placed directly in front of Mom, but directly behind the heater which was inevitably drying masses of washing, aaah’s would surely follow.


  2. Tea drinking is a ceremony and a time for family and friends to get together, to share thoughts and experiences. There is even a 12 piece “McDonald” tea set with heraldic Coat of Arms which is used for special occasions – high days and holy days – that has been passed on to the Fish Hoek McDonald family. When times are rough or tough or plain good enough there is nothing better than to sit down and relax over a good cup of tea. It is a tradition that has been established, appreciated and hopefully will carry on.

  3. I to am a McDonald and hereby confirm that the above stated facts are correct. I would also like to add a point, which has not been made thus far and this is possibly due to the fact that scrap booking hadn’t been invented during the ‘South African’ tea drinking career of my two older brothers.

    Once the signal is given, the tea is made and the tray is brought downstairs, the next task is to find an open and level area big enough put put the tray down on. This is often made difficult by a substance known as ‘paper’ or as dad and I call it ‘junk’. If there is not an area big enough for the placement of ‘the tray’ then tension in the room may rise followed by the kicking of papers or junk.

    Once this process has been completed a suitable TV channel is selected and the tea is poured. Aaah!

  4. I was first introduced to the McDonald tea ceremony by Ross in Bromfelde Road where his use of a tea-cosy (which had lain hitherto undiscovered), tea-pot and tray signalled a level of civilised behaviour not yet seen in a house that considered itself fairly advanced in that regard. Having now married into the McDonald clan, I am a convert to the value of an ‘hour for tea’ and the sound of a boiling kettle.


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