Host Your Own Afternoon Tea and High Tea

History of Tea and Tea Gatherings

Tea for Two

Tea for two.

One of the traditions inherited from the British Empire is afternoon tea. During the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the aristocracy gathered in the drawing room for this elegant ritual. Up until the First World War, ladies changed into fashionable tea gowns. The middle classes soon adopted this custom (though without the tea gowns). It was a civilized way to entertain friends. In the Regency and Victorian periods, exquisite sterling tea services were wrought by fine silversmiths in Britain. Plated silver soon followed, allowing those of more modest means to enjoy the same elegance. In nineteenth-century England, the pottery firm of Spode was the first to discover the formula for bone china–a mixture of bone ash and clay.

Pink tablecloth and tea set

Pink tablecloth and tea set.

High tea is not to be confused with afternoon tea. High tea was the working man’s early supper. The men worked long hours in the factories and mines, and when they came home they expected an early, substantial meal accompanied by their favorite brew-tea. This early supper consisted of some of the following items: shepherd’s pie, sausages, steak and kidney pie, hard boiled eggs, as well as thick slices of homemade bread. Fruit tarts rounded off the meal with a final “cuppa.” The mother presided over the teapot, which was replenished many times.

Tea in the Garden

Tea in the Garden.

The difference in the varieties of tea is determined by the region in which it is grown. At higher altitudes, the quality of the tea is superior because the cooler air matures the leaves more slowly. Below are some of my favorite teas and their corresponding regions:

  • Black fermented teas are grown in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and in Darjeeling, India.
  • Early Grey tea was named for the second Earl. It is a blend of Darjeeling and China teas, scented with oil of bergamot (a citrus fruit). This is the tea mentioned on Page 61 of my novel, Too Late for Regrets.
  • Ooling teas are a blend of black and green teas.
  • Green teas are unfermented and are the most delicate of all. They are never served with milk.

Great fortunes were made by firms importing teas. The most famous of these is Twinings, whose history goes back centuries.

Are you planning on hosting your own tea party? If so, it’s important to know the following:

Tea on the patio.

Tea on the patio.

  • The host always makes and pours the tea for guests and should ask beforehand whether milk or lemon is preferred. A teaspoon of sugar further enhances the flavor.
  • Small children love tea parties. Dressed in their best clothes, the children’s manners are usually impeccable; even the youngest are somehow aware that they are participating in a special formal occasion.

    A lace tablecloth.

    A lace tablecloth.

As for the menu…

  • The sandwich, named for the Earl of Sandwich in the nineteenth century, is made from thinly sliced bread spread with a salmon or vegetable spread, then layered with thinly cut cucumbers. It is a staple of tea parties. The crusts should be removed and the sandwich cut into squares or triangles. Scones with jam and cream follow. A pound cake, meringues, or trifle can be added.
  • Pastries bought from a good bakery are perfectly acceptable, especially if they are arranged on a lovely plate.
  • All that is needed for a tea party is a table covered with a crisp linen, a simple arrangement of flowers, good china, and gleaming silverware.

What could be more pleasant than a tea party in the garden? Have you hosted your own garden party? What are some of your favorite tea party rituals? Comment below!

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