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What is Cambric Tea?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cambric tea is a "children's tea" made primarily from sugar, hot water, heated milk or cream and perhaps a dash or two of strongly brewed tea. This weak tea generally serves as the beverage of choice in a child's tea party, or becomes the introduction to stronger beverages such as regular tea or coffee.

Cambric tea derives its name from a resemblance to cambric cloth, a very thin white fabric often used to make lightweight garments. It is believed that the French were the first to develop this tea, most likely as an alternative to the strong teas generally reserved for healthy adults. Cambric tea was deemed suitable for young children, invalids and the elderly, since it did not contain any caffeine or other troubling ingredients.

The popularity of cambric tea during the 18th and 19th centuries was largely due to the availability of its basic ingredients. While adults often packed supplies of coffee and tea during their long treks towards the West, these beverages were considered too harsh for children. Fresh milk or cream, however, could be obtained from dairy cows on many farms, and loaf sugar could be purchased in mercantile stores along the way. Therefore, cambric tea became a popular beverage among pioneer children such as Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There are a number of variations on the basic cambric tea recipe, although the basic ingredients generally remain constant. A small amount of sugar is placed in a cup, followed by either hot water or heated milk. This mixture is stirred until the sugar has dissolved, and the cup is filled to the top with either hot water or heated milk. If brewed tea is used at all, it is added at the last minute and stirred carefully. Heated cream can also be used as a richer substitute for the heated milk if desired.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By ddljohn — On Jun 23, 2011

I think historically, cambric tea has also been a more affordable alternative to tea. Tea is quite cheap now but before, it was not as affordable as milk, since many people lived on farms and had access to milk easily. So in Old England, instead of having tea, they would make a hot drink of creamy milk, water and sugar.

I bet it tasted very good since it was made with whole natural milk straight from the farm. I try and make mine that way with organic whole milk and it's a very good drink to have before bed. It helps me sleep more easily and I don't feel hungry. I'm so glad they came up with it!

By SteamLouis — On Jun 22, 2011

When I was little, I used to see my parents having tea and insist on having it as well. To calm me down, they would make cambric tea and I felt like a grown up, having tea with them. When I became a bit older though, I realized that this tea was for children and would be upset that I wasn't given grown up tea. My dad was so sweet. He used to make cambric tea and have it with me to show me that grown ups drank this too.

Now when I see cambric tea being made for my nieces and nephews, I remember my childhood. I have it with them as well now, so that they also feel like they are grown ups too!

By anon168819 — On Apr 18, 2011

My mother introduced me to Cambric Tea after the birth of my first child. The winter was a cold one, and because I was nursing, coffee and tea were off the menu.She made if for me with approximately equal amounts of water and milk, sweetened with a bit of honey or sugar, and flavored with vanilla and a dash of cinnamon. Yummy! On a cold day, I still enjoy it to this day as do my now adult children.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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