Monday, 8 March 2010

Tea-time (Διάλειμμα)

Morning and afternoon work breaks were once a more social occasion. Everyone faithfully went to the staff room where they saw and greeted people from other departments, spoke in civilised tones about (possibly) the weather and other non-controversial topics, and were served hot tea or coffee by the tea lady, who was always revered for her contribution to office cheer. Tea was generally the hot liquid of choice during a work break in 20th century New Zealand, up until the 1980s, when people began to show a preference for coffee, which was usually the instant kind.

paramount cafe
Immigrant Greeks in Courtenay Place, Wellington, outside the Paramount Cafeteria
(Photo sourced from
Aki Antipas)

All office and factory kitchens, hotels and motels, were also equipped with a zip water heater above the sink unit (you can see a small photo of the old style that I was familiar with when I was living there), which was switched on by pulling a long white cord. It then began heating up the water to boiling, making a slightly terrifying whistling sound with a very high pitch, until it finally switched itself off and the sound died down. At any time of the working day, a hot cup of tea or coffee (which extended to a cup of hot instant soup or a bowl of freshly prepared noodles; some of my fellow university students swore by a simple cup of hot water - I kid you not) was never far away, giving a comfortable cosy homely feeling to the Kiwi work environment.

Greek immigrant men working at the (now defunct) Prestige factory, manufacturers of nylon yarn, Pirie St, Wellington, New Zealand, late 1960s. Times are very different now - you can't smoke indoors during your break, milk comes in cartons and tea is generally brewed in your own mug via a tea bag, not in a teapot with loose tea leaves. Incidentally, these men had probably never tried black tea before in their homeland; New Zealand was the first time they drank black tea with milk and sugar.
And here's a photo of their work environment (that's my dad), where they returned after smoko was over: the nylon factory was steamy and noisy 24 hours a day.

It was around about the mid-1980s when the tea lady started disappearing, as did the communal staff dining room. If there was no communal kitchen in the office, people started buying their 'cuppa' at all times of the day, either from a vending machine or from a takeaway bar, until the arrival of the trendy cafe bar, which eventually became brand-labelled ot the likes of Starbucks (or Coffeeright, which are commonly found all over Greece).

The traditional style kafeneion is slowly disappearing in Hania. This group of old men is sitting in the modern surroundings of a Grigoris snack bar chain store.

Cheap coffee makers also come in handy, which generally allows for a greater variety of hot treats in the work environment.

office environment food
The office coffee maker at my workplace is also where you'll find some bread, crackers and other treats cooked up by the chef, as well as being the unspoken gossip centre.

And these days, office workers are more likely to stay at their desk, their eyes on their computer screen, with their tea or coffee next to the keyboard, unless they are smokers, which means a mandatory walk outdoors to enjoy their cigarette in the fresh air.

A modern tea house in Hania - the menu card in the background listed a wide range of exotic teas, which are served in this way.

And when it's smoko-time, everything stops for tea, doesn't it?

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