There’s no question the Brits and British luxury hotels like Claridge’s and The Goring perfected afternoon tea service, a tradition that evolved in England after Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, needed a pick me up around 4:00 pm in the early 1840s. American hotels like the Plaza Hotel and Chicago’s The Drake Hotel also followed suit, offering warm scones on silver trays and clotted cream in delicate china. When you sit down to an afternoon tea somewhere that does it well, it feels like…well, an event. Or rather, a mid-day pleasure-fest that combines caffeine, nibbles, and sometimes bubbly.
But what if you want to bring the decadent afternoon affair to your own living room? Afternoon tea is, after all, the perfect way to celebrate a bride-to-be or reconnect with friends (without having to commit to whipping up an entire dinner). We spoke to Myka Meier, co-founder of Beaumont Etiquette and The Plaza Hotel Finishing Program, which oversees the afternoon tea service at the famed New York institution, and Katia Del Rio, assistant food and beverage director at Taj Boston, to find out how to host your own tea service at home.
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When Selecting Tea, Variety Is Key
“Choose some different tea flavors and most importantly, have fun with it,” says Del Rio. “But keep in mind seasonality. In the summer, you can do an iced tea selection with teas like white blueberry, cherry blossom, and tropical green. For the holidays, try something like gingerbread, apple cinnamon, or chocolate peppermint flavors that channel that time of year. Also, keep some of the classics in the mix like a Lady Blue Earl Grey and a Darjeeling.”
Presentation Is Everything
Meier stresses the way in which tea is served can make or break your guest’s experience. She suggests steeping the tea as your guests arrive so that it’s neither too cold or strong while being served. And always have the proper condiments on hand. “Tea should be served with milk, honey, lemon, sugar and cinnamon sticks depending on the type of tea,” she says. “Have a selection of accompaniments available on both ends of the table. If you’re serving tea with leaves, have strainers and holders on the table so guests can strain the tea as they pour it into their cups.” Also where you serve the tea is just as important as what you serve. “Avoid the dining room,” says Del Rio. “People might think you’re serving a full meal and tea is meant to be hosted in a more relaxed setting.”
You Should Have Something To Nibble On
According to Meier, when it comes to finger sandwiches and clotted cream, there’s a certain tea time protocol that should be followed. She notes that tea sandwiches are meant to come first and should be savory. “Tea sandwiches are cut into rectangular or triangular shapes and are flat without crust,” she says. “You can make ham or turkey with swiss or cheddar cheese or cream cheese with cucumbers and smoked salmon.”
Scones follow and should be served alongside different varieties of jams (not jellies) as well as clotted cream and lemon curd. However, says Meier, the most important thing when serving the highlight of the tea service is to ensure the scones are warm when presented to your guests.
Don’t Forget The Sweets
“Bite-sized sweets such as tarts, mini-cakes, and petit fours are a few dessert options that can be served as the final course,” says Meier.
Booze Isn’t A Bad Idea
“Tea cocktails are very popular,” says Del Rio. “We have about eight cocktails on our menu that are tea-infused. If you want to spike your tea party up a bit, starting with a tea cocktail is a great way to go. Also, don’t forget the bubbles. Add on a glass of sparkling rosé or a champagne and your tea service will rise to the occasion.”
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