I am a coffee drinker, but afternoon tea is such a lovely thing: restorative (the act of taking a moment out of a hectic day), pretty (the loose tea or tea bags, the dainty cups, the tea strainer, and the tea pots), and gentle (rather than jolting). It’s really a simple luxury.
Every January I vow to drink more tea in the afternoons—it’s a new year and it’s cold.
Many cultures embrace tea drinking and the tea ceremony, but not surprisingly afternoon tea started in England in 1840 when Anna, the Duchess of Bedford felt quite hungry between breakfast and dinner (lunch was not actually a thing yet) and asked for some tea and small sandwiches (I’m sure there was a country house involved). It became a popular activity there, but has never really stuck here in the States. Which is a shame.
Afternoon tea is often confused with high tea. High tea sounds formal and uppity, but it’s roots belong to the working class. Whereas afternoon tea belonged to the upper class. Nowadays the terms are basically used in reverse. We tend to think of high tea as something we have at the Plaza Hotel in New York City with cucumber sandwiches and biscuits and scones and clotted cream while wearing our best clothes. And afternoon tea as a quiet, intimate affair in a warm kitchen or sitting room.
Nevertheless I am making a case for afternoon tea (or high tea or whatever we call it).
Once at a café a few years ago I was introduced to rose tea, which is usually dried rose petals blended with black tea. And when you make rose tea toward the end of a busy day, you can’t help but refocus and release some tension while enjoying the unusual taste and smell (not too perfumey as one might think). It’s a nice alternative to Earl Gray (which I also love).
The trick (as any tea aficionado can tell you) is to enjoy the process and the beautiful accessories involved. In the January issue of House and Garden UK there are two pages devoted to smart looking tea cosies (like little sweaters for tea pots). And I found a nice selection at April Cornell. I’ve also got my eye on some antique silver tea strainers and, something entirely new to me, tea wallets (charming little pouches for afternoon tea on the go).
Of course it’s all about the teacups and the teapot. I like mine to be the old-fashioned china kind, but some like them to be sturdy and made of clay. Emma Bridgewater has a very loyal following of tea drinkers. But that’s personal preference. And a whole other essay.
Happy Friday! Hope you’ll be taking some afternoon tea!