Did you know that January has been affectionately dedicated to drinking Hot Tea? Definitely makes sense in our northern hemisphere. Nothing is more rejuvenating or heart-warming than a warm pot of tea shared between friends.

History of Tea

Many urban legends abound about the discovery of tea. The most popular one is how Emperor Shen Nung discovered this wonderful elixir. One day almost four thousand years ago, the Emperor was waiting for his water to boil. I wonder where his servants were that day!! Anyway, while watching his pot boil, some leaves happened to fall in from the plant above his head. He drank the mixture and declared that it was the most delicious drink and ordered his servants to cultivate more of these plants in his garden.

The tea plant is a member of the Camellia genus and is also known as Camellia sinensis. The tea plant likes hot days, cool nights and abundant rainfall. Plus, they like very high plateaus like 7,000 feet above sea level. The major growing regions include India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam.

There are four primary types of tea – white, green, oolong, and black. The treatment of the leaf after it is picked determines which tea type it belongs to.

Who doesn’t love Afternoon Tea? Notice I didn’t say High Tea. The use of the word high is incorrect. Afternoon tea or Low tea as it’s sometimes referred to indicates the type of table that the food is served on. In this case, a low table was used. For high tea, you guessed it…”tea” which is really our version of supper was served on a high table.

History of Afternoon Tea

History buffs credit Anna Maria Russell, Seventh Duchess of Bedford and lifelong friend of Queen Victoria, for inventing this ceremony in 1840. It seems that Anna couldn’t handle the long number of hours between lunch and the evening meal and often experienced “sinking spells” or extreme lethargy. She asked her servant to bring a tray of bread and butter, cake and tea. Anna shared this wonderful discovery with friends and the rest is history. Hence, afternoon tea was born!!

The proper time for afternoon tea is between 3:00 til 5:00 pm.

There are usually three courses served in a tiered serving tray. They include tiny sandwiches to blunt the appetite; scones and then the pastries accompanied by the tea of choice in an elegant teapot. Or you can have any variation on the menu as follows:

Cream Tea

This originated in the southwestern part of England around Devon and Cornwall and includes some scones; jam; clotted cream and choice of tea.

Light Tea

This is a lighter version of afternoon tea. The menu includes scones, sweets and choice of tea.

Full Tea

A four-course menu including finger sandwiches; scones; sweets and dessert along with choice of tea. This is also known as Afternoon or Low Tea.

Royal Tea

Choice of tea accompanies the delicious food choices from Full Tea and includes a glass of champagne or sherry.

The ritual of tea awakens the senses and the emotions. Follow the Do’s and Don’ts of Afternoon Tea etiquette and be prepared to savor a wonderful event.

The Do’s

  • Do try a little of each course served at tea.
  • Do avoid talking with your mouth full. Take small bites and you will be able to join in the conversation.
  • Do wait until you have swallowed your food before taking a sip of tea. Remember food and drink don’t belong in the mouth at the same time.
  • Do leave your plate where it is after you have finished eating with the knife and fork in the 10:20 position.
  • Do look into, not over, the cup of tea when drinking.
  • Do spread the scone with jam first then the cream.
  • Do keep your pinky tucked in.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t place items on the table such as keys, smartphone, sunglasses, gloves, hats.
  • Don’t overload the fork when eating foods.
  • Don’t tip up the cup too much when drinking tea…keep it at a slight angle. Always use the cup handle.
  • Don’t reach across the table. Ask to have something passed to you.
  • Don’t try to remove food from your teeth in the presence of others. Excuse yourself and take care of the problem in the bathroom.
  • Don’t push your plate away from you and declare, “I’m stuffed”.
  • Don’t gesture like a symphony conductor with a knife, fork or spoon in your hand.
  • Don’t overfill the cup to prevent messy spills in the saucer.

Finally, milk compliments full-bodied Indian and Sri Lankan teas and cream masks the taste of any tea. So are you a M.I.F (milk in first) or M.I.L. (milk in last)? This is a hotly debated issue in tea etiquette. Now you know!! The correct answer is:  M.I.L. Milk is poured after the tea. Follow the example of Queen Elizabeth II.

If you have never been to an Afternoon Tea event, I highly recommend it!!

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” ~Henry James



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