There’s something sophisticated and elegant about afternoon tea, a real English tea party. The custom of afternoon tea was supposedly created by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840. She would get hungry in those long hours between lunch and dinner around 8 p.m. To keep up her spirits, she began drinking tea and having a bit of bread and better with it around 4 p.m. each day, and afternoon tea was born!
A real English tea party isn’t so much about the china, the silver or the guest list. A tea party in today’s hectic technologically driven world has become an oasis of rest with an expectation that delicacies fit for royalty will be served.
Hosting is not limited to the complete traditional English tea party. It can be much more about the giving of your time and energy in creating an atmosphere that denies the existence of anything stressful or unkind!
Picture yourself inviting four to six friends into an area you’ve cultivated with the thoughtful purpose to be a refuge from the ordinary. A temporary escape from the everyday routine of 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. It’s much easier to pull together and much more satisfying to host than you may think.
As you might expect, the afternoon is the traditional time for a tea party, but it certainly doesn’t need to be limited to that. You could throw a tea party brunch or an evening tea party that features all sweets, post-dinner.
Choosing the tea can be an adventure of its own. Do you want to use bags or leaves? If you choose to use tea leaves, make sure to have a good quality tea infuser on hand.
Make testing teas a part of the enjoyment of hosting! Visit your local Whole Foods Market, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market or Trader Joe’s for a variety of fresh healthy teas. Another option is to go on line to discover a tea boutique near you. Taste test a variety of flavors, including herbal, fruity, black, green, red and white. Online retailers such as The English Tea Store have a wide selection of teas, as well as tea pots, cozies, cups and other essentials.
Tea selection is important. Guidelines are based largely on the flavor and strength of the tea compared with the food. You should always be looking to accentuate one with the other. An ideal pairing makes both the food and the tea taste better.
For example, when considering a white tea with food, it’s best to choose a light food with very light flavors. White tea has a natural sweetness which is highlighted when combined with foods that lack this natural sweetness.
Hibiscus tea has a tart, cranberry-like flavor and has many health benefits. It’s often blended with fruit, including raspberry and pomegranate. Sweet individual cakes would pair well, the tartness of the tea complemented with the sweetness of the cake.
Sugar cubes are the expected accompaniment to tea, but you can also offer sugar in a bowl. If you want to be authentic and your tea choice lends itself, offer lemon or cream (never both for one cup!) as well.
Once you have two or three teas to serve, experiment with various combinations to decide what foods you will pair with the teas with.
Serving an array of finger sandwiches is traditional when serving tea. Cream cheese and cucumber, ham with cheese and bacon and egg, are classics to keep in mind if you are having a difficult time deciding on a menu. Chicken salad, egg salad and watercress are also excellent options. The key is to keep the portions modest. Don’t forget to trim the crusts! Adding a dipping sauce or herbs can give a fresh look and taste.
Scones are a must at an afternoon tea! Although some people are intimidated by the idea of making scones, they’re really simple. If you can make biscuits, you can make scones. Cream scones are one of the simplest kind to make, but you can also flavor them with dried currants or cranberries, citrus zest and more. To top scones, clotted cream and good strawberry jam are mandatory.
Clotted cream is a delight. You can make your own by cooking heavy whipping cream at low temperatures for quite a while and chilling it. Whole Foods, Wegman’s and other high-end grocery stores will carry it made by the Devon cream company. Any British specialty shop will have it as well.
Other foodstuffs that are sometimes served at teas include quiche (mini or small portions), crab puffs and shrimp toasts – any light nibble that can be eaten in a bite or two (at the most!) is welcome, whether sweet or savory. Good cookies (or biscuits) might make an appearance as well.
Experiment with your co-workers and family at weekend get-togethers and noon lunch runs. Real English tea party finger foods even make good road trip munchies. Enlarge your imagination and limit your serving size.
The possibilities are endless!
Copy by Alice Hebert, an onsite officer manager for FirstService Residential in Bloomington, Minnesota.