Social History of Tea Tea Cuisine Tea Culture

Revising Afternoon Tea

Tiered cake stands, white linen, dainty sweets and bone china teapots are well-worn symbols of Afternoon Tea, – the popular, more formal approach to serving a cuppa. To that end, hotels and other venues have dreamed up all kinds of themed afternoon teas – the edible garden, Asian-inspired and ultra chic!

Afternoon Tea is often erroneously called “High Tea”, a name which originally defined the meal that was served at a high (dining) table close to the supper hour. In fact in Britain, the term “tea” is often used for this meal. Afternoon Tea was first taken in the boudoir (by women) at a low table and was the meal that punctuated the space between lunch and supper. Since it’s early popularity in the mid-eighteen hundreds it has developed its own rules of etiquette, which I won’t go into here. In fact I’m all for breaking the rules surrounding Afternoon Tea, insofar as the preciousness of its presentation and the correctness of its consumption is concerned.

I suggest that it is possible to reposition Afternoon Tea as an at-home pause whether alone or with friends. Why not deconstruct the formal tea and create your own version? Key elements of équipement and cuisine could be incorporated, such as a tray, tea vessel, drinking cup, small tastes of simple but fine foods and a very good tea.

Today's afternoon tea: Tray - vintage Danish teak, early 19th century tea bowl with saucer, 1950's tea carafe, yellow 1940's tea linen, silver tea spoon, 2013 Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong and a savoury tasting plate
Fresh goat cheese sprinkled with matcha (green tea powder)

As the mercury sat at -10°C and snow fell in the garden, I assembled a tasting plate from whatever I could find in my fridge – a simple and unpretentious offering: clockwise, starting at the bottom of the plate – avocado pieces, fresca goat cheese sprinkled with matcha, meyer lemon wedges, warm toasts, cucumber, kalamata olives and air-dried golden grape tomatoes, all dribbled with 2013 extra virgin olive oil. For the tea, I chose eco cha’s 2013 Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong from Taiwan. Its floral fragrance was modulated with flavours of conifer – perfect for the late-winter day.

You probably noticed there were no sweets here – quite unlike the rich buttery fare that we are used to. I love sweets, but hadn’t any in the house, so went with savoury instead. It was delicious and the goat cheese was rich and creamy as to coat the palette. My next venture with “Afternoon Tea” will include some tasty confections. Any ideas for the cake menu?