"Come and share a pot of tea, my home is warm and my friendship's free."
Fancy a scone? Yes, I know that it’s supposed to be ‘fancy a crumpet?’ but work with me here…
I thought it would be fun to blog about the British institution of afternoon tea. It’s almost an established ritual in England and is featured a few times in my novel. My main protagonist, Sage and her mother take tea at Claridge’s, and St. John takes Sage to the teahouse at Mariage Frères when they are in Paris.
A favourite pastime for centuries, let’s rediscover the leisurely ritual of afternoon tea. And it is a bit of a ritual … the ritual of preparing the table, often contributing a dish, and using your favourite linen or tea cups that have been handed down through your family are all ways of creating a sense of occasion and drama and, of course, enjoying quality time with your friends. However, while afternoon tea was once the quintessence of civility, it needn’t be formal; the main point is to enjoy the simple pleasure of taking tea … and to have fun.
I love afternoon tea – it’s almost one of my favourite pastimes (there’s nothing quite like a reviving cup of Earl Grey after a hard day writing or shopping or when out with my girlfriends) – and so I’m going to share some of the etiquette of afternoon tea taking, some afternoon tea ideas, and a recipe or two with you all…
So, firstly, let’s clear up some myths… What’s the difference between ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’? Well, today (perhaps everywhere but London), the two are practically interchangeable … but if we go back two centuries to the Victorian era in England, there was a considerable difference. Afternoon tea, my mother often used to say, is served between the hours of 3-5pm. It is a meal of finger sandwiches, scones and petit fours, and yet was never intended to replace dinner but rather to fill in the long gap between lunch and dinner at a time when dinner was served at 8pm. If you like to read Austen or Gaskell or any historical romances, you may know that ladies had to prepare for the balls and routs and assemblies where they would meet their Mr Darcy – but dinner or supper was served quite late at these events (and often after quite a bit of dancing), so it was necessary to have a stop-gap. Sadly, in some respects, lifestyles have changed since those times and afternoon tea is now a treat, rather than a stop-gap as, alas, there are no more tonnish balls and routs and assemblies. Still, don’t let that ruin your enjoyment – there must be a few Mr Darcys out there in the tea-drinking world…
High Tea, however, was important to the working class in the industrialised world of Victorian England (the effects of the Industrial Revolution were evident), especially as factory workers and miners had to wait until after work for their ‘tea’ and it had to be substantially more than just tea and pretty little cakes and doilies. Workers needed sustenance after a day of hard labour, so the after work meal was more often hot and filling and accompanied by a strong pot of tea to revive their flagging spirits.
According to tea aficionados, the addition of ‘High’ is believed to differentiate between afternoon tea served on comfortable parlour chairs or relaxing on the garden terrace and the worker’s ‘High Tea’ served at the dining table.
Whilst afternoon tea is far less formal today, some simple rules of etiquette still apply…
- Pick up your cup and saucer together, holding the saucer in one hand and the cup in the other.
- Don’t raise or extend your pinkie finger when sipping tea from your cup – this is not a sign of how ‘posh’ you are (no matter what you’ve seen on television).
- When stirring your tea, avoid making noises by touching or tapping the sides or rim of the cup.
- Never leave your spoon in the cup, and avoid sipping tea from your spoon. Place the spoon under the handle of the cup on the side when not in use.
- Milk should be poured into the cup after the tea. Milk is also served cold or room temperature but never heated (as in a cappuccino).
- Lemon slices should be neatly placed in the teacup after tea has been poured. And never add lemon with milk, as the citric acid will cause the milk to curdle.
- Remember that a macaroon is not a macaron. A macaroon is a small meringue cake, typically made of coconut and often dipped in chocolate or has a cherry on the top (I often think of it along the idea of a coconut friand) whereas a macaron is a lovely, light, little French almond-meringue treat, just begging to be filled with a favourite filling (my favourite macaron is a pistachio shell filled with raspberries and cream)
Taking tea is almost as much about the ambience than simply the delicious food. It’s nice to bring out your fine china – this can be the set handed down the family line, inherited from your great grandmother or it can be a mix-and-match topsy-turvy eclectic collection of cups and saucers much like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. You can colour coordinate (pastels are always pretty, pinks or lemon, black and white, silver and blue) or aim for a theme (literary ‘luncheon’ or fairytale knights and princesses, Regency era garden party bonnets and bows, or a place theme like Paris or Venice); you can hang lanterns or fairy lights in your garden, or decorate in the manner of Martha Stewart or with ornamental fruit trees in pots; what about having a celestial tea party with tarot cards and tasseology? Whatever you decide to do, have fun with it.
“A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” ~A.A. Milne
As A.A.Milne, the author of “Winnie the Pooh” said: if you are going to do a high tea, do it properly. And, of course, Pooh would know!
So here’s the perfect recipe for scones:
· 350g self-raising flour
· 1 ½ Tbsp icing sugar mixture
· 1 ½ tsp baking powder
· 1 tsp fine salt
· 150ml pure cream (possible to use buttermilk)
· 150ml milk
· 45g butter, melted, cooled
· 1 tsp vanilla essence
· Extra flour, for dusting
· Extra 1 Tbsp milk
· Jam and clotted cream, to serve
1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Double or triple-sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
2. Whisk cream, milk, butter and vanilla in a second bowl.
3. Make a well in centre of dry ingredients, then pour in cream mixture. Using two knives, mix very gently until a dough just comes together. Put on a lightly floured work surface and, using your hands, flatten to 3cm thick. Use a 5cm biscuit cutter to cut 12-16 discs from dough, re-flattening as necessary.
4. Arrange discs side-by-side on prepared tray and brush with extra milk. Bake for 15 minutes or until risen and light golden. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool. Serve warm with jam and clotted (or double thick) cream
Of course, don’t forget that you can a lovely cuppa and scone in the company of a good book…
Might I make a recommendation? Try Seed: Keepers of Genesis 1… It goes down especially well with a steaming pot of Earl Grey…
Keepers of Genesis Series
Genre: YA PNR/ Urban Fantasy
Publisher: LBLA Digital
Number of pages: 432
Word Count: 160,000
Cover Artist: XLintellect PTY LTD
A powerful, hidden artefact is unearthed and, with its discovery, an ancient conflict is reignited. Seventeen-year-old Sage Woods, the daughter of an eminent archaeologist, uncovers the artefact’s disturbing secret and is placed in terrible danger.
Unwittingly, she has stumbled into an invisible war between two primordial dynasties of a supernatural order – a war in which she has a fateful role to play in a race to control the power of the SEED.
Embroiled in a quest that takes her from the British Museum to the Louvre to the Vatican Secret Archives, Sage realises that her blossoming romance with the mysterious, alluring St. John Rivers is inextricably tied to the artefact.
Up until now, St. John has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Sage is determined to delve deeper to uncover his dark secret and his connection to the SEED.
It is a decision that will have a devastating effect on humankind…
Available at Amazon
I had no idea where to begin in my quest, so I decided to simply follow the path of least resistance, working my way around the exhibition. It was like a jigsaw puzzle; reconstructing pieces of the past and trying to find the bigger picture. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I only hoped that there would be something, some tablet or bas relief, that would be able to shed some light on the artefact and, more importantly, on what I’d seen. I would have sworn that I saw it transform before my eyes in Dad’s office but I didn’t know whether I should doubt myself now. I’d only seen the artefact for a few moments and yet it had felt like it was speaking to me, imparting some ancient knowledge. Of course, I didn’t understand any of it, but I hoped to.
Because I was in a reverie, I almost missed the piece altogether. It was a tablet not much more than ten centimetres in length, containing a cuneiform inscription and a unique map of the Mesopotamian world. The symbols on the tablet were an exact copy of some of the symbols I’d seen on the artefact though a little more crudely formed.
The cuneiform inscription composed the top section of the tablet whilst, underneath it, was a diagram featuring two concentric circles. The outer circle was surrounded by triangles at what seemed to be random distances. The inner circle held more geometric symbols and cuneiforms. A rectangle in the top half of the inner circle in the centre of the tablet represented Babylon. Assyria, Elam and other cities were also depicted. The tablet and its inscription were by no means complete as it had been reassembled from the broken pieces found by archaeologists. Information was obviously missing but I was elated at finding anything that could tell me more about the artefact.
It was because I was so transfixed with my find that I initially failed to notice that I was being scrutinized from across the room. The first I became aware of it was a prickling sensation down my back, the hairs on my neck and arms raised giving me goose bumps. I turned my head round nervously, looking back over my shoulder.
He stood at a distance, a young man in his mid-twenties perhaps, taller than average. No mere accident of lighting, his slightly curly locks, the colour of polished brass, formed a halo around a face that was much too beautiful to be called handsome. The only way to describe him was golden. His skin was golden, his hair, which he wore slightly longer than was fashionable, curling into the nape of his neck, was golden and I suspected his eye colour was, if not golden, amber like mine.
When I caught him staring at me intently, he neither looked away in embarrassment nor did he pretend to know me. Instead, he continued to assess me with an unblinking, hypnotic gaze. It was I who broke contact first; flushing with embarrassment, I dropped my eyes at once.
This can’t be happening! I thought, feeling panicky. Dragging in a deep breath, my eyes skittered back to his. He was still staring at me, his indescribably beautiful face unmoved.
My heart fluttered in my chest. I didn’t know what to think – was this some random stalker or had he seen me before around the museum and couldn’t place my face, seeming familiar to him? No serial killer looked the way he did. He was dressed immaculately all in black; a pair of black trousers was topped by a fine woollen black turtleneck. He wore the sleeves rolled up, exposing his sun-kissed skin. And the black only accentuated the perfection of his face. Of course, I had no idea what a serial killer looked like, but I was fairly certain it wasn’t this golden god.
As curious as I was, I did the only thing that made sense; I ignored him – or pretended to. Deliberately turning my back on him, I tried to refocus on the tablet in front of me. But I was merely staring blankly, nothing was registering. It was all so unreal.
‘It’s not real.’ A low, attractive voice remarked by my side.
I almost jumped out of my skin, whirling to face the owner of that voice.
‘Sorry if I startled you.’ He smiled, apologetically. ‘I saw you looking at the map of ancient Mesopotamia.’ He nodded in the direction of the display case.
I blinked. He was even more stunningly golden up close. He belonged in a museum – he had the kind of face and figure that artists used as a model. Statues should have been made of this man, posing as Apollo, Phaenon or David. I almost envied him his looks; such beauty on a guy wasn’t fair.
I had been wrong about the eyes though; they were an impossible jade green flecked with gold and framed by the longest eyelashes on any guy I’d seen. He was also taller than I imagined; a good few inches above six feet. All in all, he was quite a package and way out of my league.
I somehow regained my scattered wits to stutter, ‘S-s-sorry?’
Great! Now he was going to think I was an idiot! An idiot with a stutter!
I almost groaned aloud.
About the Author:
db nielsen was born in British Hong Kong and immigrated to Australia in childhood. db likes to travel the world with family; dividing time between residing in Sydney and visits to the cathedrals, crypts and museums the world over, doing research for new projects. The author is a university lecturer in Linguistics and Semiotics, and continues to teach English Literature and Language whilst writing fiction.
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