The British Guy Samples the Tea at the Renaissance Faire

Gavin Cleaver
$20 of food, even in 1533

Regular readers may remember that I found it amusing to review cream teas and high teas around Dallas, comparing them to their British counterparts. While many of you didn't agree that this was in fact amusing, that's never stopped me before. For the third in a highly infrequent series, I am for some reason visiting Scarborough Renaissance Faire (fayre? Fair?) in Waxahachie, surely the least appropriately named place to ever host an approximation of 16th-century Britain.

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At this salubrious location, nestled into a field by Ye Olde I-35, I am promised tea with the Queen. The actual Queen, you guys. As someone who grew up singing about her being saved, this is a pretty big deal for me. I take my wife, because even though she is Welsh and thus views the Queen as an instrument of oppression of her people, she loves tea and stuff, and there's no way Tea with the Queen at a Renaissance Fair could ever go wrong, right? Right?!

The first step inside results in us having our picture taken by a man dressed as a jester who quite clearly has a modern day Kodak EasyShare Camera inside some sort of clown's face on a pole. Apologies for the advert, but if I can read the brand of a camera as my first introduction to 1533 Britain then, well, something's not right. Is this jester some sort of snap-happy time traveler, simply trying to fit in in 1533? If so, he requires a more elaborate backstory than the Faire is providing him with.

As we progress further into the "authentic" wooden buildings advertising such natural circa-1533 dishes as "jalapeño poppers" and "nachos", it becomes clear that everyone here has a British accent that, much like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, they apparently went to Australia to learn.

Mother's Day let's-all-pretend-it's-1533-and-I'm-the-Queen tea is the sort of endless torture I will subject my wife to from now until one of us dies. Upon spying the pavilion and noting that there is every kind of British flag there apart from a Welsh one, I know I've made a mistake. Her face is ashen, her demeanor unapproachably sad. The pavilion is wooden and open-sided, and at one end a lady in a corset plays something that looks like a xylophone with strings (I Googled "like a xylophone with strings" in an attempt to deter snark, but it ain't happening guys. It could even be a period-specific instrument, which would be a first).

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Gavin Cleaver
I sketched this, because there were no cameras in 1533

After we are all seated at a common picnic bench cunningly disguised as a common picnic bench with a flower in the middle, the royal parade enters. The Queen enters, and I remain unsure whether it's Catherine of Aragon, who in 1533 participated in the world's first divorce, or Anne Boleyn, 1533's new model Queen, entirely unaware that she'll be executed. I missed the announcement, all right? It's a Queen of sorts. There are a few mentions of Scotland. Maybe she's some sort of Scottish queen? There's definitely a religious guy with a suitably impressive hat, who definitely isn't the Archbishop of Canterbury for some reason. Was Scotland in charge of this pavilion? Dear reader, I cannot say. But what I can tell you is that in 1533 food was really shit.

First there is the tea, which upon hearing that a man with a kilt was asking a nearby table whether they would prefer their tea "warm or cool", causes my wife to let out a howl of anguish. She barely says another word after this. The be-kilted man, doing a better Scottish accent than Sean Connery has ever managed despite being Scottish, pours us the warm version (obviously, because cold tea is an invention of the devil) and we are presented with a tray of two scone-cake things, two haphazardly cut half-sandwiches, and some fruit. My wife declares that one of the sandwiches, which appears to be filled with the color yellow very thinly spread (yellow is expensive these days) and an herb of some sort, tastes like "piss and onions" while the other sandwich, which is a chicken-and-grape number, is possibly too experimental even for the adventurous palate of 1533. What's worse is that these sandwiches have clearly been left out all day, as their tops are stale. This is why we invented refrigerators, I guess, so the Queen wouldn't get stale sandwiches.

There is a strawberry, but alas that appears to be a genuine 16th-century strawberry left to stew for 600 years, such is the lack of moisture and taste. There are two small scone-cakes, one of which contains white chocolate, a confusing proposition for 1533. Both are largely inedible due to their gone-off nature. I know the fridge wasn't invented, guys, but how about some kind of airtight container? Is that entirely beyond your wits? I would have made a fucking killing in the 16th century. I would have been the Bill Gates of food storage. The tea, of course, is Lipton tea, something that still won't be served in Britain come 2033 or indeed the apocalypse. There is no cream, a query met with confusion. It must be difficult to provide waiter service and remain in character, but this was $20 a head, dammit, and all I've got is some stale food and six cents of tea.

Eventually, everyone gets together for a sing-song ("Flower of Scotland," in case you were wondering) and the Queen comes to sit down at our table. It turns out the Queen and I have a lot in common, both being born in London, albeit I was born 450 years later than her. She looks good for her age. Still in shock at paying $20 a head for this (I'm not sure what inflation will be like for the next 475 years, but I'm pretty sure I just made every single worker a millionaire), we stumble out to receive our single flower from the same man in a kilt who served us "tea". Thanks guys.

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The purpose of ren fairs is to separate people from their money.  Quickly, efficiently.  The concept of value doesn't enter in to the equation.

On the "good tea" front, start with loose teas.  Tea bags are made from the equivalent of floor sweepings.

Where to buy? My parents are wild for The Cultured Cup.  You can also get some decent teas at CM.  If you prefer not to take out a second mortgage to enjoy a cup of tea, World Market has started carrying passable teas that are merely somewhat overpriced. 

A better option for the budget minded tea drinker - look at Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores.  All of those cultures value good tea and don't want to pay a lot for it.  The stores have quick turnover so your tea won't be older than your car, which often happens in mainstream grocery stores.  Which stores?  India Bazaar, Super-H, and Sahara come to mind at once.  It's been a while since I've been to Sahara so I'm not sure if they are still doing the market thing and are only being a restaurant.


Point of order, as someone who has lived in UK, both in Long Eaton, Derbyshire and on Baker Street in London I can vouch for Lipton's being present on Tesco and Co-op shelves, and being bought in massive quantities, probably by tea ladies and cafeteria workers to fob off on unsuspecting office drones and deadened schoolchildren. I am guilty of having introduced several English friends to well brewed iced "sun" tea, during the sweltering summer of '83 and they found it quite agreeable with lemon, with and without sugar or artificial sweetener, much better than tinny flavored canned stuff that was being fobbed on crowds that year.


Hey Gavin, when I go to the store which teas should I be buying? I know there's plenty of new-age, gourmet brands out there now and Lipton's, idk, I'm wary of it. Taste like newspapers.

I enjoy typical English Breakfast, Earl Grey as well as Mint/Peppermint teas. But each brand really varies and I'd be interested as to what you'd consider good vs. shite. When I've gone to the UK and done the tea-thing, it's much better than what I have at home.

Further along the trendy road, the Teavana shops in areas malls and other hip loose-tea places. But I really just stick with greens or herbal there.

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Is there any venue in Merry Olde England that has Brits running about in chaps & cowboy hats trying on Texas drawls and chomping on BBQ? Sort of a cattle-drive faire?

Yeah. I didn't think so.


It's like I was there. I can almost taste the crappy sandwiches right now.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I wonder why, in the entire first season of Mr. Selfridge, we were not treated to view a sumptuous high tea.  The Crowleys have them all the time on Downton.

Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

I'd rather sample the roasted turkey leg.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

Piss and Onions would make a great tavern name.


LIpton, PG Tips. What's the difference? They're both crap. It's pretty difficult to get a good cuppa in England anymore, by the way. 

So where in Dallas do you, The Brit Who Thinks He Has Taste (which would be a first), recommend to go for a good cup of tea? 


we got our great bbq from the Germans and Czechs. not sure how Waxahachie got stale sandwiches and Lipton tea. sorry!  


@Markus I'm very fond of Taylors of Harrogate's Yorkshire Gold, available at CM and World Market. It's a lovely strong black tea. Some take it with milk and say it stands up well to the milk.


@TheCredibleHulk Don't assume so quickly, paduan--the Brits love Wild West theme parks and they're likely as authentic as our Renaissance fairs...


@rbeezlee The difference between Lipton and PG Tips is like the difference between getting stabbed and winning the Powerball jackpot.

And my house. It's awesome there. Actually the tea at Maudee's wasn't bad, as long as you get English Breakfast.

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