Jane Pettigrew: England's First Lady of Tea

by Bruce Richardson

Jane Pettigrew If there is a "first lady of tea" in this world, it arguably could be London's Jane Pettigrew. She is often imagined as a frumpy tea room owner who spends most of her day, apron-clad, baking Cornish pasties and Welsh cakes in her kitchen. People who meet her for the first time are pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant, engaging woman who is giving tea a more modern image.

Updating tea's image has been Jane's responsibility with the British Tea Council the last ten years. She has advised the London office on advertising campaigns geared to a younger, more hip, audience. The Tea Council knows that if tea consumption is to grow, it will have to compete with the higher profile beverages that crowd the marketplace.

Sadly, because tea is such an everyday drink for the British, the majority of tea drinkers do not know as much as they could about the different teas that are available from around the world,” she said. “There is a connoisseur market but it is very small and I think it will always focus on the stronger types of teas and blends. We have a long way to go to match up to the tea drinking enthusiasm.

Jane spent the first 12 years of her working life teaching French and English as a Second Language. In 1983, she opened her Tea-Time tea shop in southwest London with two friends. Her love of art deco influenced her 1930s decor. The atmosphere was extremely sociable with a helpful staff. The menu was innovative and the teas were properly made. Her loyal customers found it a fun and friendly retreat where people of all ages and lifestyles built friendships. It was not a typical English tea shop!

During the first year of the shop's life, Jane was asked to write a book of tea-time recipes, many of them taken from her family's collection. Jane Pettigrew's Tea Time Recipes was publishe by The National Trust. The book and tea room success brought her to the attention of several London hotels who hired her as a consultant in hopes of putting a new face on their traditional afternoon tea service. She gave up her tea room and more books quickly followed. Her writing skills soon landed her a job as editor of Tea International, a trade magazine for tea professionals.

Jane's insatiable appetite for tea led to research that had her totally immersed in the beverage's history. Her knowledge of tea, combined with her teaching experience and enthusiasm, made her an instant success in the world of tea. Since 1986 she has spoken at tea events in Japan, Brazil, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, the United States, and onboard the QE2 .

Jane knows quite a bit about the growing phenomenon of tea in American. She has spoken in countless states to delighted audiences who revel in her recollections from her book co-authored with Bruce Richardson, A Social History of Tea. Americans are fascinated by her stories of the beginnings of tea drinking in Britain and the introduction of tea dances and afternoon teas into British society. At each event, she patiently spent hours talking with her devoted fans, giving autographs, and posing for pictures.

She loves to remind her listeners that tea has always been associated with female chattering and gossip. In the early 18th century, when after-dinner tea drinking had become a feminine ritual, Colley Cibber said, "Tea! Thou soft, thou sober, sage, and venerable liquid, thou female tongue-running, smile-smoothing, heart opening, sink-tipping cordial, to whose glorious insipidity I owe the happiest moments of my life."

Jane has observed the amazing renaissance of tea in America with great interest. Over the past decade it has become clear that there is a growing connoisseur tea market in the United States that is prompting people across the country to focus on brewing, serving and drinking quality teas from all the major producing countries.

The growing tea market has been fed by Jane's growing opus of tea books and articles. Her New Tea Companion (co-authored with Bruce Richardson) is considered the authoritative guide to the subject. This full-color book is filled with everything you need to know about individual teas, including a history of tea cultivation and consumption around the world, discussions of growing, processing, tasting and blending tea, and tips on making and serving tea at home. Tea shops across America use it as a convenient resource for their employees. The 2015 edition is found in tea shops worldwide.

Jane Pettigrew's adventures in tea have led her to search the archives of the National Trust and the dusty records of several British tea merchants and public houses. She has brought to light incidents and information unseen for centuries. Her audiences find such anecdotes fascinating. But, her lasting legacy in the tea world may be the new face she is giving to the well-worn Victorian tea image, by bringing tea cultures together from across the world. Whether she presides over a tea in England, Japan, Italy or America, she presents a tea lifestyle infused with her unending energy and sweetened by her gracious charm.