So which tea did Queen Mary (1867-1953) so prize that she had to keep it locked in a cupboard?
According to James Norwood Pratt, pioneer of the current tea wave in the USA, it was "a fine Darjeeling with a pronounced muscatel flavor." This was the Queen Mary Tea (that) Twinings sold as the personal choice of the late Queen Mary, he adds, in his book The Tea Lovers' Treasury.
A bit of internet "research" showed that Twinings had launched this tea in 1916 and discontinued it only in 2007, after over 91 years! It is amazing the brand lasted so long. But we amuse ourselves with the thought that they could have given it 10 more years and let it retire at a more auspicious and grand 100 years! That is if they had to drop this tea from their stable.
Not surprisingly, we found a whole Facebook page called Bring Back Twinings Queen Mary Tea, Please.
According to the posts in this page, which appear quite knowledgeable, Queen Mary Tea was actually a blend of Darjeeling and Keemun. The latter is a robust tea with a smoky and honey flavor, used in the traditional English Breakfast Blend. We can imagine it brought more depth and color to the Darjeeling's floral spicyness.
But where did the knowledge of the Queen locking up her tea actually come from? Pratt finds it the book Dinner at Buckingham Palace by former royal chef Charles Oliver. Notably, Oliver credits Queen Mary for bringing the English tea-time to perfection.
Talking about the tea tradition within the palace, Oliver notes: "The ritual of English tea-time was brought to perfection by the late Queen Mary, for whom it was the favorite time of the day. Everything had to be fully ready by 4pm punctually, with sandwiches, cakes and biscuits invitingly set out on gleaming silver dishes upon a smoothly-running trolley. The teapot, cream jug, hot-water jug and sugar bowl were always the same antique silver service which had been a favorite of Queen Victoria...[Later] Queen Mary would take over and meticulously measure out her favorite Indian tea from a jade tea-caddy she kept locked in a cupboard. Then she would pour on the boiling water and complete the tea-making ritual by snuffing out the spirit stove before sitting back for the footmen to pour tea and hand round sandwiches and cakes. But before Queen Mary gave the signal for this to begin she would always let exactly three minutes elapse from the moment she poured hot water on the tea leaves so that the tea leaves so that the tea would be perfectly brewed."
Queen Mary was known to have exquisite taste in all things and she obviously had one for tea - that she liked Darjeeling, referred to as the champagne of teas by tea connoisseurs around the world, is no surprise.
But this story does make one curious about the state of the royal security. For the Queen to have to lock up her favorite tea in her own palace is a rather unexpected situation. Who would dare steal the Queen's tea?! But I guess the Queen figured that good Darjeeling can't be left lying around. It could make a perfectly trustworthy servant lose their integrity.
And while we are at it here is a small video celebrating the life of the Empress.
All pictures credited to the FB group Bring Back Twinings Queen Mary Tea, Please.