Monday, October 15, 2012

May I offer you a spot of tea?

I attended a tea party this weekend, an event sponsored by our local Orthodox Church's Ladies Philoptochos Society. These women do incredible things, filling the need of charitable work not only for our local community of the Faithful, but for the greater local area, as well as national and international causes. Some of these include helping women and children at the Shade Tree Shelter, sending packaged goods to our service personnel overseas, helping grow Orthodox mission churches around the world.

I love tea time! It is a wonderful tradition. It represents one of the nicer, more gracious things in life, with its lovely degree of formality and etiquette. People have been drinking tea for centuries, but the tea time we know and love (for those of us who appreciate it), has its roots in the 18th Century. Everyone can have a cup of tea, high-test or herbal, piping hot from a Starbucks paper cup, but nothing takes the place of the "correct" way to prepare, pour, steep and savor your favorite brew, along with delicate sandwiches and tasty finger-sized desserts. The event is not to be hurried, or loud, or boisterous. It demands order and balance and a degree of restraint.

The highest expression of tea time is HIGH TEA, a bit misunderstood by American, as it is really includes a heavier meal. The tea time with the little delicasies is really AFTERNOON or LOW TEA, because it was taken in a sitting room, where low tables were placed near chairs or sofas where attendees could sit and converse. There were three types of offerings:  Cream Tea with  tea, scones, jam and cream. Or, Light Tea with tea, scones and sweets. Or Full Tea that included savories as well.

In Britian, traditional tea time is four or five o'clock; Americans rather prefer two or three pm. In the early 1700's tea drinking became popular when Queen Anne (1665-1714) began drinking tea rather than ale for her breakfast. Few people drank water, as it was not always clean and dependable. At the beginning of the 18th Century, the English had two main meals, breakfast and dinner. Later on, dinner was shifted from noontime to an evening meal for the upper and middle classes, so a mid-afternoon snack became popular. Tea fit the bill!
 Tea has always been highly regarded, and kept in special tea caddies to retain freshness and flavor. The caddies at left and right are wonderful examples of how important the caddie was. The treasure chest caddie is certainly symbolic of how special tea could be.
Below, are some examples of tea service. Be it humble or palacial, it speaks to the importance of this wonderful ritual. My personal favorite tea is Earl Grey, but there are so many that do the trick. And, remember, tea is taken with lemon or milk, not cream as cream is too strong and masks the delicate flavors. The cream is used as clotted or whipped up heavy cream for the scones. Yumm!


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