Cambric tea, sometimes called “nursery tea” was hot water and milk, was an American slang term referring to a drink of hot water, milk, and a dash of tea, sometimes sweetened. It is also described as hot water with a little milk or cream and sugar, without any tea at all. It was given to children, supposedly to give them energy, or to help them feel grown up during tea time. It was also often served to the elderly.
How did Cambric Tea Get Its Name?
Cambric tea got its name from cambric fabric, which was white and thin, just like the tea. Cambric fabric gets its name from the French town of Cambrai, a textile center. Cambric tea was popular during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It was also known as white tea, or hot water tea.
In later times, after coffee became popular, cambric tea gave way to “coffee milk” which was a similar drink with more milk and sugar than coffee. In some regions of the South, children are given coffee milk at an early age, and the amount of coffee is increased as they grow older. It is possible that Cambric tea was used in the same way, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who mentions cambric tea in her book The Long Winter, claimed that the drink was indeed developed by temperance crusaders as a way of introducing stimulants to the young.
Cambric tea was popular at a time when cold beverages were discouraged and believed to be bad for the digestion. It was even advised to forgo any drink during mealtime, but when a drink was taken, a hot drink was considered more healthful and natural, and even plain hot water was often prescribed. As such, if any other elements were added to the hot water, they should be minimal. Such drinks, including cambric tea, were considered better choices for children, the elderly, or the ill.