Interesting Facts About English Tea
Plan a Valentine's Day Tea for favorite girlfriends.
Tea, which was brought to Britain in the 17th century by Dutch and Portuguese merchants, provides pleasure to people from all walks of life. It is revered for its ability to both relax and refresh, and sharing it is often the foundation of social visits.
In the United Kingdom and within the British Commonwealth Nations, it is a daily ritual taken at different times of the day. Morning tea, often referred to as "elevenses", might be a cup of tea (cuppa) with toast or pastry. Afternoon Tea, served between 2pm and 5pm, is accompanied by sweet pastries or shortbreads, scones, clotted cream, jams and occasionally finger sandwiches. High Tea is an evening tea served with more substantial fare like meat, shephard's pie, and fish. It is taken between 5pm and 7pm.
The origins of Afternoon Tea:
In the 1800s, it was common for the Upper Class to have luncheon at noon and dinner at 8pm or later. The Lower Class lunched at 11am and supped by 7pm. This practice left a wide hunger gap by mid-afternoon. In 1840, Lady Bedford (aka Anna Maria Stanhope,) a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, purportedly began the tradition of serving afternoon tea to her lady friends of similar social position when she felt the need to pull herself from the 3pm doldrums and get a second wind before her evening obligations. Taking this afternoon tea as a pick-me-up has become an integral part of British custom to this day; however, it is done in a more casual way for everyday purposes, and often workers can't break away as in days past.
Typically Afternoon Tea is served on a low coffee table whereas High Tea, more of a meat or meal tea for the working class ,is served on a dining table. The table height brings the name "high" tea- not the social status. In the U.S. we often think of High Tea as served mid-afternoon for ladies of high-society with dainty cups, lace, and gloves. How misinformed we are of British customs!
The popularity of the Formal Afternoon Tea:
As we have moved into a global society, international customs have become more the norm for luxury hotels, and we see more private businesses catering to the cultures of those from abroad. Afternoon Tea has become part of many hotels' daily fare, and reservations are often required due to its popularity. English-styled Tea Shoppes host women's gatherings for many occasions such as bridal and baby showers and Mother's Day celebrations. Even children's birthday parties have tea themes with teddy bears and dolls. In the home, many of us choose to offer Afternoon Tea in place of a luncheon. These settings are often more elaborate than the everyday presentations.
Serving Formal Tea:
Modern Formal Tea is usually served from 2pm to 4pm. It is typically set up on a higher dining or service table and accompanied by an assortment of finger foods such as tea sandwiches made from egg or chicken salad, and cream cheese with watercress or cucumber as well as various cookies, scones, and small teacakes with jam. Strawberries, grapes, vegetable crudites, and nuts are sometimes added to the mix. The most important thing, however, is the tea service.
A formal tea service will have 2 teapots: one for brewed tea, a second for boiling water , a waste bowl, a creamer, and a sugar bowl- all on a tray. A plate of sliced lemon is served alongside. The host/hostess should always serve the tea to the guests. If a party is quite large, and the host is needed to circulate among guests, someone should be appointed to pour tea in her place. The server will pour to the guest's preference, diluting the stronger tea with the boiling water and adding sugar and lemon or cream as desired.
How to brew tea:
Fresh boiling water is the key to good tea. The teapot should be pre-warmed w/ hot water, then dumped, before the tea is brewed. This keeps the tea from cooling too quickly. Add one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per person to the boiling water and steep for 3-5 minutes according to personal taste. Letting the tea infuse longer can make it bitter due to the tannins in it. There are so many wonderful blends from which to choose: Orange Pekoe, Darjeeling, Earl Grey with essence of bergamot, spiced teas, fruit-flavors such as peach or raspberry, and more!
If there is going to be a large group, a bigger pot or covered pan can be kept in the kitchen for refilling the tea service pot. The kettle should always have boiling water handy. Rewarming in the microwave doesn't offer the same freshness.
A beautiful two-tier tray is just right for showcasing tea sandwiches and sweet treats.
How to make tea sandwiches:
Remove crusts from the bread. Some prefer thin sliced varieties, but it is a personal choice. Butter lightly to keep bread moist then apply favorite fillings:
egg salad, chicken salad, devilled ham, chopped olive, peanut butter & jelly, cream cheese and pimento, cream cheese and cucumber or watercress, sliced deli meats and cheeses. . .
Quarter sandwiches crosswise or cut into squares or rectangles. Cookie cutters can be used for heart-shapes or circles too.
Wrap the sandwiches in a dampened flour-sack tea towel or cover w/ damp paper towels and place inside plastic bags or plastic wrap in the refrigerator over-night. This will guarantee soft and moist flavorful tea sandwiches. Shortly before expecting guests, arrange on a tray with curly parsley, escarole, butter lettuce, curly blue kale, or paper doillies.
A personal tea-table favorite:
One of my favorite tea table treats is a plate of coconut-rolled banana balls surrounded by fresh strawberries.
Peel and cut a banana into squarish chunks
Roll the pieces in vanilla yogurt, then in unsweetened shredded coconut
Mound in the center of a round plate on a paper doily
Surround with fresh ripe strawberries, preferably organic
Whether served from a buffet table or enjoyed as a sit-down tea at the dining table, tea should be a leisurely meal to be savored by the guests. See to the freshening of the cups by adding more tea and hot water as needed. This tradition is embraced by men, women, and children alike as each is welcomed to pick and choose favorite foods from the table.
Formal Tea does not have to be a straight-laced affair. It is simply the table-setting that gives it it's name. Who can resist a beautifully draped table dressed with freshly arranged flowers, wondrous assortments of goodies on silver trays and tiered plates, lovely napkins and china cups with saucers? It is a timeless tradition that gives us a wonderful opportunity to use our family heirlooms for the pleasure of our friends, and it continues to gain new devotees everyday.
An afternoon tea table:
© 2012 Catherine Tally
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