The first time I experienced a proper English High Tea was in the fall of 1983 at the Park Lane Hotel in London. I loved it.
The British ritual of High Tea began in the 1800s when a close friend of Queen Vctoria’s complained of having a hungry feeling during the late afternoon. She wanted something to see her through til dinner time which then was traditionally served at 8 PM. High Tea was the answer.
Served with the tea there are three basic foods. It starts with the savory foods which are small tea sandwiches traditionally made from white bread with the crusts cut off. Scones with jams and clotted crème and petit four cakes usually round out the foods served. It’s a soothing and relaxing afternoon ritual.
Years later in the summer of 1997 while staying at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia I indulged in their high tea which was superb!
When I want a soothing, calming warm drink I choose tea. Especially in the winter. A mid-afternoon cup of tea enjoyed while reading a good book with a nice fire in the fireplace is as good as it gets.
So last year for the advent season I bought myself an advent tea calendar. Each day I opened a window to a new tea bag to brew a cup for that afternoon.
The teas were produced in France by Le Palais des Thes. Some were wonderful. Some I didn’t like. The black teas, for me, are much more satisfying than the greens or herbals. The thing with tea is that there are so many kinds to choose from. Even though all tea is derived from the same plant which is the Camellia sinensis plant.
From that plant there are six basic types of tea: black, green, white, purple, oolong, and pu-erh.
Herbal teas don’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant. They are actually tisanes, which are blends of herbal plants infused with spices, dried fruits and flowers. Rooibus “tea” is made from a native South African herb.
Tea drinking began with the Shang Dynasty in China in the 3rd Century AD. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that western civilizations were introduced to it by Portuguese explorers and merchants. By the 17th Century it was a very popular beverage in Britain, but the cost made it mostly consumed by the wealthy class.
The British established commercial production of the Camellia sinensis plant in India to compete with China’s monopoly on tea. Eventually the plant was introduced to more than 50 countries. In the U.S. the only large-scale production of tea is outside of Charleston, SC at the Charleston Tea Gardens on Wadmalaw Island.
There tea is grown on 127 acres with hundreds of thousands of tea bushes. You can visit and take a trolley tour of the grounds and tour the tea factory, which about 75,000 people from all over the world do each year. It’s on my bucket list.
Charleston Tea Gardens is owned by the Bigelow family, a leading name in tea production in the U.S., and one of 25 brands produced here. Other well-known brands produced here are Celestial Seasonings, Stash, Tazo, and Yogi.
Great Britain produces 22 brands with Tetley and Twinings as the best known. In China, the origin of tea, all tea is produced by the Ten Fu Group. Even Canada grows tea on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Red Rose Tea is the most popular Canadian brand here in the states.
Today tea is generally divided into three cultures. Green teas from China, Japan, and Morocco. Black teas from Britain, it’s former colonies, Russia, and the Middle East. Oolong from Taiwan, Tibet, and Mongolia.
When you consider how labor-intensive and time-consuming the production of tea is, it is a marvel that we can go into a supermarket or food store and purchase a box of convenient tea bags for only a few dollars.
Also consider all the benefits of tea. There are long established medical uses such as calming digestive distress, soothing sore throats, enhancing respiratory functions, calming nervous disorders, boosting your immune system, fighting inflammation, and some even think it can reduce dangers of heart disease and cancer.
Many people enjoy their tea with “extras”. Milk is popular, but be sure it is no more than a 2% milk, nothing heavier. Always add the milk to your cup before pouring the tea. Sugar and honey are popular sweeteners for tea. Some people opt for lemon instead of sweetener. And some, like me, add nothing to tea and just enjoy it’s pure flavor.
And then there is iced tea. The first recipe for iced tea was in the book “Housekeeping in Old Virginia” published in 1877. Iced tea is so refreshing it’s now a staple of every restaurant menu and probably found in nearly all refrigerators in every home.
For me nothing is better than a glass of cold Oolong Darjeeling tea, my favorite for iced tea, on a warm day when I can sit on the porch, look at the palm trees, and listen to the water lapping at the beach.
Whether it’s winter or summer, you just can’t beat afternoon tea!
“No matter where you are in the world, you are at home when tea is served.”Earlene Grey
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