For the last year I have been dying to get on a plane and visit the UK. Growing up we went to England every few years and I have very fond memories of these trips. I loved the people with their accents, the royal family, double-decker red buses, English gardens, Harrods and I especially loved afternoon tea. I came across the original clotted cream and lemon curd at Cost Plus World Market and a light bulb went off. Since I cannot actually cross the pond I was inspired to re-create my own Downtown Abbey afternoon garden tea party.
During our trips we would stay in Bed & Breakfasts and they often served a traditional afternoon tea. The menu included English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea, scones, clotted cream, jam, lemon curd and perhaps small finger sandwiches. Not only is tea time food scrumptious but the whole set up is very visually appealing. I love the delicate patterns on porcelain tea cups and saucers, they're so dainty and feminine.
In the spirit of being truly authentic, I researched proper tea time etiquette observed by the British High Society. My favorite guideline for such an event is the Etiquette Scholar's Tea Etiquette Guide. A few noteworthy rules include:
- The traditional time for afternoon tea is four o'clock
- Three distinct courses include savones (tiny sandwiches), then scones, and finally pastries
- Afternoon tea has also been called "low tea" because it was taken at low tables placed beside armchairs. (It's never properly referred to as "high tea".)
- It is an honor to be asked to pour tea. The pourer is considered the guardian of the teapot, 'which implies sterling social graces and profound trust. Tea should never be poured by servants.
- Always hold a tea cup by the handle, it is considered a faux pas to cradle the cup with your hands
- Stirring a cup of tea is done gently and noiselessly by moving the teaspoon in a small arch back and forth in the center of the cup. Do not allow the teaspoon to touch the sides or rim of the cup. Remove the spoon and place it on the saucer behind the cup, with the handle of the spoon pointing in the same direction as the handle of the cup.
- It is considered poor form in most cultures to make unnecessary noises with the accoutrements one uses while eating or drinking.
- Lemon is offered thinly sliced (never in wedges!) and placed on a dish near the milk and sugar.
- Milk is poured after the tea. You may have heard or read that milk precedes the tea into the cup; but please, please, dear tea lovers, don't be guilty of this faux pas (another reason for banishment to the Tea Drinkers' Hall of Shame).
Drink up ladies and gents!
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