The first time I went to “Tea” was with a friend who realized I was under a lot of stress and thought a visit to a tearoom would be relaxing. She was right. Not only was it relaxing, it was also exhilarating and inspiring. I felt excited and renewed. That was 15 years ago and I can still remember how excited I was. Since that time I’ve been to hundreds of tearooms, in many cities and countries, enjoying the unique atmosphere, service and food in each and every one.
Before that first visit, I had never heard of “Afternoon Tea”. Where did this tradition come from?
The origin of Afternoon Tea began in England in the mid 1800’s. The practice, among the upper class at that time, was to have a very large breakfast around 11am and then dinner would not be served until 8 or 9pm. Credit for Afternoon Tea is given to the 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, who, feeling a little “peckish” or faint with hunger about 4 in the afternoon, would withdraw to the privacy of her boudoir to have a light sustenance of tea and small sandwiches of bread with butter. This small repast would tide her over until dinner. But sitting alone in her boudoir was isolating so she began to invite close friends to join her. By the late 1800’s, having a light repast in the privacy of the boudoir grew to be a daily social ritual, and moved from the boudoir to the more respectable drawing room. It also grew from being enjoyed by only the social elite to being enjoyed by everyone all throughout Britain.
A traditional, English-style, afternoon tea is a balance of savory and sweet. The British are known for their love of mustard, vinegar and herbs. With menu choices, it is best to rely on traditional recipes – sandwich fillings of thinly sliced cucumber, chopped egg, watercress. The crust is always removed from the close-textured bread. Butter should be sweet and used liberally. Scones should be round and moist; more like southern biscuits than the dry, triangular ones that are popular in today’s coffee shops.
- Choose bread that is firm in texture and will complement the filling without overpowering it.
- Trim the crusts after making the sandwich, not before, for a crisp, straight edge.
- Frozen bread works better for spreading fillings and for cutting the sandwich into shapes.
- A thin layer of soft butter should be spread on the bread to keep the filling from making the bread soggy.
- Cover prepared sandwiches with a damp tea towel and place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator to keep til serving.
Do not serve cold, refrigerated sandwiches – allow to come to room temperature.