Elegant Afternoon Tea
The formal afternoon tea ritual is gaining in popularity as more North Americans discover this luxurious return to a more refined and slower-paced era. While savoring an exquisite cup of whole leaf tea or a succulent pastry served on fine china, one can’t help but be reminded of Henry James when he said, “There are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony as afternoon tea.”
A formal afternoon tea, if done properly, is not a quick “cuppa” but an elegant, drawn-out affair. Traditionally, taking afternoon tea meant indulging in three courses served on delicate china. The first course consisted of dainty finger sandwiches followed by freshly baked scones served with jam and clotted cream. For the final course, an assortment of sweets was served, sometimes accompanied by a port or aperitif. And all the while, of course, a pot of your favorite tea is close at hand.
During the reign of King Edward, afternoon tea had evolved into such an elaborate ritual that there were specialized serving dishes, an increasingly sophisticated menu, and luxurious gowns created specifically for the event.
The highs and lows of tea
Whether a tea was considered “high” or “low” depended, literally, on the height of the table. The leisure class typically took tea as an afternoon repast in the drawing room or parlor. It was meant to provide refreshment midway between a light lunch and a late dinner.
By contrast, high tea was usually taken in the dining room (on a higher table) and it was served with more substantial dinner fare such as meats, cheeses or shepherd’s pie. High tea, traditionally, was more typical of the working class.
Today many fine hotels or restaurants offer a formal English afternoon tea. Popular among theatre goers as an early supper or for others as a late lunch or refreshment after a hectic day of work or shopping, afternoon tea also offers an elegant alternative for entertaining.
The health benefits of tea
The leaves of black, green and oolong tea (from the Camillia sinensis species) is thought to protect against cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. However a recent German study suggests that adding milk to tea may diminish the health benefits of the drink. Tea contains complex compounds called polyphenols which are believed to help the arteries to relax or dilate, allowing for the smoother flow of blood. However, scientists at the Charite Hospital in Berlin found that study participants who drank tea without milk experienced greater relaxation of the arteries than when they added milk.
The study, published online in the European Heart Journal, suggest that the casein proteins in milk adhere to the polyphenols, preventing them from carrying out their health benefits.