One afternoon in the 1840s, Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, complained of that “sinking feeling” in her stomach. She was brought a pot of tea and light snack in her boudoir to relieve her hunger pangs. The Lady loved her little snack so much that she began inviting her friends to join her (and Anna must have been one popular gal, because before long, this pause for tea became a seriously fashionable social event). Nowadays, we may not be not putting on our white gloves, heavy corsets to sip some tea at 4pm, but the tradition (with some minor modern improvements) still remains very relevant – especially when the late afternoon lethargy sinks in. The Tig sat down with Tea Sommelier (who knew?!), Kiley Holliday, of the Bosie Tea Parlour to see how to create that perfect afternoon tea service. And the best part of sitting down for teatime? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out.
- Start with a loose leaf tea.
- Water temperature matters.
- Steep your tea carefully.
- Bring out the tiered platter.
- Pay attention to your tea and food pairing.
- Take your time.
All teas come from the camellia sinesis plant of which there are two varieties—the small leaf China plant and the large leaf assam plant. Teas derived from the small China plant have a more refined, distinct flavor—but you should really choose a tea to your own personal preference—whether that be the traditional English Breakfast or a lighter white tea.
Have you ever had a cup of tea that leaves your mouth overly dry? That’s because the water was too hot. Water should never, ever be at a rolling boil. For green teas, water temperature should be around 175 degrees and for black teas, water should be just below a boiling temperature.
It’s crucial to properly steep your tea, or you won’t get the best possible taste. For green tea, steep for 2-3 minutes; black tea should be left for 4-5. If you are a fan of stronger tea, don’t steep your tea for longer—instead, add more tea leaves.
What sets a traditional British afternoon tea apart is the well-known tiered cake stand with scones, tea sandwiches, and small pastries. Scones should be served with clotted cream and raspberry jam; tea sandwiches should be thinly sliced with the crusts cut off. Typical sandwich fillings include cream cheese and cucumber, smoked salmon, and egg with mayonnaise.
Just like wine and food pairings, it’s important to pair the right tea with whatever you’re eating. When you choose a pairing, you want something that will highlight both the tea and the food. If you’re eating something pungent, like a smoked salmon tea sandwich, you’ll need a strong tea, like an oolong to stand up to it. English breakfast tea pairs well with the flavor of raspberry—so drink it with your scones and jam. Green tea goes well with chocolate because it’s grassy enough to match the slight bitterness of chocolate, but it also benefits from the sweetness of the chocolate.
Really, the best part about an afternoon tea service is the pace. We all lead such busy lives and we’re so used to just grabbing our food and going, but this is completely the opposite of that. Sit down, relax, and really enjoy your tea.
Images via: Judy Meepos, Your Coffee Break