Your pots best be steeped!
I’m sharing all the tea on how I like to prepare and style a quintessential afternoon tea experience. A tradition I love to taste especially when I travel to learn more about what this ritual looks like in each country. After all, tea is the second consumed beverage in the world, second to water. Paris, London, Kyoto, Marrakech and Bali just to name a few of my favourites, I have picked up a trick or two.
It is no doubt that I am a discerning tea drinker and would have my own collaboration with renowned brand, Sloane Tea Fine Merchants. If you have not yet tried our whimsical blend, learn more here.
So what is Afternoon Tea? And why is it sometimes referred to as High Tea?
Afternoon Tea is traditionally taken around four o’clock. A respectable time after lunch and not too close to supper. Finger sandwiches, scones and delicate sweets accompany the tea. We sometimes will be offered additional savouries to start, which then is referred to as a “full tea”. One of my favourite experiences was at Sketch London when I was served a soft-boiled egg with caviar and soldiers of toast, or in Bali where they served satays with a peanut sambal condiment.
The term “High Tea” is often used to coin the experience as more elite but in fact High Tea in British tradition was a hearty main meal of the day for the working class. The menu of course included tea with the addition of British fare; meat pies, cold meats, breads, cheese, jam, fruits and dessert.
Where to start you ask?
But of course, with the tea.
When hosting it is appropriate to have a few offerings. I always like to have a black tea, a rooibos and an herbal on hand. Next, you need to decide what style you will serve? With bags, always opt for a loose-leaf sachet for a higher quality product. It is always lovely to have small tea bag dishes at each setting and if you are steeping loose leaf it will require multiple tea pots if your guests choose different flavours. Serve ideally through a tea strainer to capture loose leaves.
Don’t forget the fixings like whole milk (preferably warm), lemon slices, honey and sugar cubes.
A lovely tip is to boil additional water to warm the teacups before serving and don’t forget the milk comes last in black teas, you never want to alter the flavour of the tea or cool it down too quickly.
What will you serve?
We often see tiered serving ware when taking Afternoon Tea. Commonly tea sandwiches are the “first course”. They will be at the base of the stand to suggest they come first. These are commonly rectangle and triangular shaped sandwiches with crusts trimmed off, like cucumber dill and smoked salmon with crème fraiche.
Now days the offerings go beyond these classics. I have had the pleasure of indulging in lobster rolls and choux pastry filled with shaved beef with horseradish. The inspiration is endless!
Next comes, the scones, my favourite part.
Scones became a feature of afternoon tea in the early nineteenth century.
They are best served warm and should be broken in half with fingers to suggest in appearance that they are light. Lovely with the addition of citrus or sultana raisins. They are served alongside, butter, clotted cream (sometimes Devonshire cream) and jam. Lemon curd too! Having a few varieties is never a bad idea.
The Sweet Finale
The final tier on your stand is dessert.
Always an array of pastries, whether it be mini teacakes like madeleines, macarons, tartlets, and even more elevated desserts such as entremets and verrines. One of my favourites is the classic Queen Victoria Sponge Cake.
A sponge cake sandwiched with a thick layer of jam and double whipped cream. Yum!
If there is a time to pull out the fine bone China, this is it! Bring on all the vintage.
This elegant occasion calls for all things pretty, linen napkins, side plates and dainty flatware to enjoy every morsel. Small bud vases of floral add a beautiful touch to the table too. Suffice it to say dressing the table can be a concert of patterns and play from generations before us. Nothing is off the table when it comes to your palette so enjoy!
No matter how you fancy your tea, make it your own and relish in sharing the special moments with the ones you love because there is something so comforting about a good cuppa.
I’m often reminded of a wise saying I heard during my time in Morocco.
"There is always time and there is always tea".
• Always fill your kettle with fresh cold water and bring it to a boil.
Water that has been double-boiled will affect the taste of the tea.
• Remove your kettle as soon as your water comes to a boil and allow it to sit for minute or two for black and herbal tea, and a little longer for green, white, and oolong.
• Keep those pinkies down; contrary to popular belief it is rude to have it held upright.
• Tea is sipped, not gulped and your cup should be returned to the saucer sitting on the table between sips.