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Paul Dean

Pause That Refreshes a Gentleman

November 15, 1986|Paul Dean

Real men may prefer coffee that looks and tastes like umber spar varnish. Total gentlemen take tea. "Absolutely, absolutely," Ivor Spencer agreed. "Tea is an intellectual occasion, a business pause, a spiritual refreshment, a social ceremony."

And all this time you thought tea is a beverage made by pouring boiling water over dried tea leaves.

"Never," Spencer continued. His British accent bristled. "Tea is a rite among stockbrokers and the Royal Family, from building sites to board rooms. Wimbledon stops for tea. Cricket matches stop for tea. Unions have gone on strike for a worker's right to stop for tea. You can read about battles where, at 4 p.m., the British generals stopped for tea."

On the thought that Cornwallis probably surrendered to Washington at 3:59 p.m., we pause now for personal identification.

Spencer is a one-man tea party. It comes with being a gentleman's gentleman ("Butlers are an old-world breed taking two showers a day and forgoing forever onions, garlic, curry"), a toastmaster to countless royal functions ("Prince Philip once told me: 'At least you get paid to be at these things' ") and operator of a butler's school in London and courses in the United States ("in Palm Springs, Houston and we're preparing to franchise") that teach downstairs hopefuls how to butle upstairs.

Spencer, 59, a Cockney who rose to more gracious stations than London's East End, will be at Bullock's (South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa) today and Sunday (Fashion Square, Sherman Oaks). He will sit amid silver and crystal to pour Royal Blend tea (from Fortnum and Mason, where the Queen Mum shops) and offer talk of royal preferences. Such as what Princess Diana said to Charles but nevah what his butlers (Spencer has two graduates working at Buckingham Palace) might have seen.

He will talk of 30 years as a toastmaster and the pain of being held captive during several thousand political speeches: "As former Prime Minister Wilson once told me: 'Spencer, you must be a masochist.' "

He will describe the perfect butler: "Who must cultivate a mantle of diffidence, rising above everything which may include rudeness from guests and indiscreet advances, some of which may even come from his employers."

He will outline the obscenities of American tea making: "Tea bags alongside a cup of warm water . . . half-and-half instead of milk . . . and the hotel where they gave me sachets of powdered milk for tea. Terrible." He will applaud the expansion of teatime across America, with Trumps, the Westwood Marquis Hotel, the Sheraton Grande, the Ritz Carlton at Laguna Niguel, the Santa Barbara Biltmore and a cluster of local tea shoppes leading the Southern California back-to-tea movement.

Spencer also will advise on making the best cuppa this side of his mother's tea trolley.

"Use a china or stainless-steel pot but never an aluminum teapot. It turns the tea gray. Cups do not have to be bone china but use thin ones that won't remove flavor from the tea.

"Tea. I like English Breakfast or Royal Blend as a morning eye-opener and Earl Grey or something delicate in the afternoon.

"Scald the teapot with boiling water and throw out that water. Add tea, use one heaping teaspoon of tea per person with one extra for the pot. Then pour on bubbling, boiling water.

"Keep the pot hot with a cozy and let the tea steep for about three minutes before pouring through a strainer.

"Tea bags or loose tea? I prefer loose tea so you can see the quality. But there was a recent test in England where the experts were asked to compare tea made from bags and from loose. They couldn't tell any difference.

"Tea with lemon. Of course. Delicious. We call it Russian tea.

"Tea poured into the milk? Milk into the tea? They say it tastes better if you put the milk in last, but I don't know. I do know that at Buckingham Palace the milk goes in first."

Spencer will be at Bullock's both days at 11 a.m. He will finish at 3 p.m. A public demonstration, after all, mustn't interfere with 4 p.m. and his private tea time.

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