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How About a Spot of Tea?

Updated: Feb 25

Before I came to live in the U.S.A. I visualized people getting together over a cup of coffee, with the coffee pot on the stove and coffee ready to pour instantaneously. Not exactly.

Nearly everyone I know has to have their first cup of coffee in the morning before their eyes are really open. This is the one time when it is absolutely essential in daily life for the majority of Americans.

Tea in Britain is so much more than that.

If you are cold, tea will warm you;

If you are heated, it will cool you;

If you are depressed, it will cheer you;

If you are excited, it will calm you.

-William Gladstone

Yes, Brits have their tea first thing in the morning and they do drink coffee from time to time during the day, especially after a really good meal.

Tea is a panacea for all our troubles and ills. It is over tea that many of life’s problems, big and small, become solvable. And Tea is also used to cap a good night out at the theatre, or as a reward for some accomplishment – like cleaning the oven or finishing the ironing.

When you have an exasperating, exhausting day shopping and get home with your packages, before you put anything away, you put the kettle ‘on’ to make a cup of tea.

If you have just taken the dog out for a walk in the usual blustery, cool, rainy weather of Britain, when you get inside your home and the dog shakes itself, you put the kettle ‘on’.

A neighbour has come over for a chat, well a ‘cuppa’ is called for – with some McVities Digestive Biscuits, of course.

You have had some bad news and you are stunned, but you know having a cup of tea will help you deal with the situation.

A group of friends have been playing tennis, there are some winners and some losers, but all want to flop down from the exhilaration and heat to celebrate the winners, console the losers and calm everyone with a nice cup of tea. This is when you will hear “Will you be mother” because someone has to be assigned to pouring the tea and handing out the cups.

At the Emergency Room when your child has his collar bone reset from a fall – someone will bring you a cup of tea.

‘Cups of Tea’ is a ‘medicine’ often seen in emergency rooms and given to patients and their loved ones to cover any emergencies.

Headache, nauseousness and a runny nose will prompt mother or spouse to say “I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”

Returning from a lovely vacation, sighing that sigh that signifies ‘east, west, home’s best’ a cup of tea goes with the relief you feel to be back to your own bed and washing machine.

TV crime shows from Britain always show the detectives getting tea from the victims being interviewed or even the ”interested parties”. I am always surprised to see the pretty tea sets in these scenes – like they knew the police would be needing some tea and have the tray ready.

For the British, taking tea is intricately woven into their

collective personality and psyche.

A cup of tea on arrival at a country house is a thing which, as a rule,

I particularly enjoy. I like the crackling logs, the shaded lights,

the scent of buttered toast,

the general atmosphere of leisured coziness.

- P.G. Wodehouse

They were sitting at one of the tables now, Daphne had put out tea things, a cuppa being the true Englishman’s cure for everything from tired feet to mass murder. -Martha Grimes

Do we always have a tea set at the ready?

Do we always have a piece of cake in a tin available?

Are there any digestive biscuits left in the package?

Do you have a kettle, electric or otherwise?

And, more importantly do you have tea leaves in tea bags

or loose in a caddy?

Yes to all

What are you putting the kettle ‘on’? It originally meant it was on the hob or a trivet which swung over the fire to keep the kettle boiling all the time. Now it means you have turned on the heat under the kettle to bring the water in it to a boil.

Supplies for everyday ordinary tea.

Tea – in bags or loose – in a tea caddy. Indian (Black) tea is most popular with fragrant teas like Earl Grey coming in second and China (green) a distant third.

A tea pot that is a good pourer. Tea cozy - we use tea cozies to keep the want the pot to be hot.

A kettle. We don’t call it a tea kettle- what else do you do with a kettle except boil water for tea? (Occasionally to make instant coffee or use in a coffee press).

Milk and thin slices of lemon.

Sugar or sugar substitutes.

If using loose tea you may want to have a tea strainer on hand,

but if you strain the leaves you won’t be able to read the

tea leaves in your guests cups.

Home-made tea cozy with teapot nest, hotpad and decorative cover for the tea cozy.

The most important element of making tea is the water must be freshly obtained from a faucet, any water still in the kettle must be poured out, (we shan’t have stale water). Boil the water in a kettle, not the microwave, pour immediately into a pot or cups with tea bag/loose tea and leave to steep for 3 minutes.

In the case of loose tea in a teapot the tea pot is always taken to the kettle, never the kettle to the pot, warm the pot with some of the boiling water and discard, pour the boiling water on the tea leaves, put the lid on the teapot and cover the teapot with a tea cozy to keep it as hot as possible before it is poured into your cup with a dash of milk in the cup already.

General rule for an average size teapot is 3 heaped table-spoonsful of tea = 4 teabags.

You can always add more hot water if it is too strong, but can do nothing if it is too weak.

When you make tea in a teapot with loose tea leaves the hostess can read the tea leaves.

Special Event Teas

Does “Afternoon Tea and “High Tea” mean the same thing?

Afternoon Tea is a restorative interlude at around four o’clock that is intended to keep body and soul together until dinner - often consisting of pots of hot tea with lemon or cream and sugar and light sandwiches, scones, cookies and cakes.

High Tea, on the other hand, is served closer to six o’clock and is a substantial meal of more hearty fare, i.e., steak and kidney pie or salad and left over roast served with a bottomless pot of strong tea followed by sturdy sweets such as Eccles cakes or sticky toffee pudding.

Afternoon Tea with a group of ladies.

Can be served from a low table with your friends seated in comfortable chairs around you.

Everything will be assembled in front of you: Two teapots with two varieties of tea, a pot of hot water, milk Jug (pitcher), sugar bowl, small plates and small napkins, enough cups and saucers for each of your guests. You will have a 3 tier stand with large plates for small cakes, small sandwiches and small pastries – all finger food. That’s a lot of stuff, so the number of guests should be limited to 4.

If you want to have more guests it is advisable to lay a table with white tablecloth, a small floral arrangement, all the china, platters on a 3 tier stand and other plates for more refreshments. The hostess can preside over this table. She will have all the cups in their saucers in front of her where she will pour the tea and hand the cup on its saucer to each of her guests.

Tea served buffet style can be accomplished, but it loses the intimacy of an Afternoon Tea.

High Tea

Invited guests to High Tea can include men and women because it is really just your average evening meal …. Supper or dinner. The only difference would be with your fish and chips or cold chicken and salad there would be pots of hot tea.

Supplies for a Tea Party for a large group (Church event or Bridal Shower)

TEA- different varieties: black, Earl Grey, Green Tea


Devilled beef and asparagus -

Cucumber and butter

Egg salad

Devilled chicken with curry and chopped water-chestnuts.

​Scones​: with butter (or clotted cream) and strawberry jam, cookies

Mini cupcakes – butterflied, Empire Biscuits, Mini oat bran or blueberry muffins

Toasted English muffins with butter, mini quiches, sausage rolls, fruit tarts, strawberry jam lemon curd, clotted cream, sugar cubes/sugar, milk, cream, lemon slices,

Banana Nut bread, Victoria sponge, Fruit cocktail in individual cups

​Table settings for a group Tea Party

Tablecloth, napkins, pink roses in a small low vase, candelabra with pink candles

Teapot(s), Tea cozy, Silver Tea Service (for buffet table)

Serving plates and tea plates should have doilies on them.

Electric​Tea kettles

Cups and saucers, small tea plates, small knives, demitasse teaspoons, standard teaspoons sugar and cream sets, sugar tongs, small bowls for jam and clotted cream

Food identity cards in cardholders

Serving platters for scones, sausage rolls, sandwiches

Tiered cake stands, Chafing dish and or warming stand - optional

Afternoon Tea in Britain and The Commonwealth

Tea mania swept across England as it had earlier spread throughout France and Holland.

Tea importation rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to an annual average of 240,000 pounds by 1708.

Prior to the introduction of tea into Britain, the English had two main meals-breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was ale, bread and beef. Dinner was a long, massive meal at the days end.

Tea was drunk by all levels of society

It was no wonder that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) experienced a "sinking feeling" in the late afternoon. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle.

The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." (London at that time still contained large open meadows within the city.)

The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses. A common pattern of service soon merged. The first pot of tea was made in the kitchen and carried to the lady of the house who waited with her invited guests, surrounded by fine porcelain.

If the hostess makes the tea at the table, the tea pot was warmed by the hostess from a second pot (usually silver) that was kept heated over a small flame. Food and tea was then passed among the guests, the main purpose of visiting being conversation.

Tea Cuisine

Tea cuisine quickly expanded in range to quickly include wafer thin crustless sandwiches, shrimp or fish paste, toasted breads with jams, and regional British pastries such as scones (rhymes with gone) and crumpets.

At this time two distinct forms of tea services evolved: "High" and "Low". "Low" Tea (served in the low part of the afternoon) was served in aristocratic homes of the wealthy and featured gourmet titbits rather than solid meals.

The emphasis was on presentation and conversation. "High" Tea or "Meat Tea" was the main or "High" meal of the day. It was the major meal of the middle and lower classes and consisted of mostly full dinner items such as roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, and of course, tea.

Tea time Scones (Sghonn)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons very cold butter cut into small cubes

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

1/2 cup of chopped golden raisins

1 large egg

4-5 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Add the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles a coarse meal.

Stir in the zest and the chopped raisins.

In a small bowl beat the egg and 4 tablespoons of the cream together.

Add this to the flour mixture with your hands until the dough just comes together.

If the dough seems too dry – add the extra tablespoon of cream.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.

Pat the dough into a 6-inch round about 1 inch thick.

Cut into wedges or use a cookie cutter to the size you desire.

Space the scones evenly on the prepared baking sheet

Bake until golden brown – about 12 to 15 minutes.

To make scones deeper brown brush with cream and sprinkle with

a little sugar before baking.

Serve warm with butter (or Clotted Cream) and strawberry jam.

Victoria Cake

You can use this recipe


Bake a yellow cake mix, make two layers and spread jam and whipped cream between the two layers

Garnish with powdered sugar on top

Recipe for Victoria Cake


225g/8oz superfine sugar, plus a little powdered sugar for dusting the finished cake

225g/8oz margarine or soft butter at room temperature, plus a little extra to grease the pans.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm/8in cake pans. (Use a piece of baking paper to rub a little bakispread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated then line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking paper.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread. Mix everything together until well combined with an electric hand mixer but be careful not to over mix. The finished mixture should fall off a spoon easily.

Divide the mixture evenly between the cake pans.

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don't be tempted to open the door while they're cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

To take your cakes out of the cake pans without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack. Set aside to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread it with plenty of jam. If you want to, you can spread over whipped cream too. Top with the second cake, top-side up. Sprinkle over the powdered sugar.

Serve the cake cut in wedges on small plates with a dessert fork.

Use good-quality strawberry or raspberry jam and whipped double cream.

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