What is afternoon tea? It was introduced in Britain in the 1840s, a light repast to take one from the late brunch-type morning meal to dinner which was usually served around 8pm. Bite-size tidbits, savoury and sweet, were served with a cup of tea to tide one over, and it became a social ritual bringing engraved invitations to "take tea" and tea gowns as a whole new addition to a lady's wardrobe. Ah, to have a portion of my wardrobe dedicated to just gowns in which to drink tea!
As I began my research for this blog post, I reacquainted myself with the various tea terms - high tea, low tea, afternoon tea, cream tea, and champagne tea. My idea of afternoon tea consists of this menu, thank you to Afternoon Tea for putting it so succinctly:
Traditional Afternoon Tea Menu
A selection of freshly prepared finger sandwiches
Warm scones with clotted cream and preserves
A variety of home made cakes and pastries
Your choice from a range of teas
In case you're curious, a high tea is a more substantial meal enjoyed by the lower and middle classes after a long day at work - meat pies, shepherd's pie, and something no doubt slathered in custard are on that menu. It is served at a high (dining) table. A low tea is afternoon tea, described thusly because it is served on a low table. A cream tea is usually just a scone and pot of tea, whereas a champagne tea is the full afternoon tea experience along with a glass of something sparkling.
The best tea I have been fortunate to enjoy was at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia where Vic and I travelled as a post-deployment mini-break last September. The venue was beautiful, the service impeccable, and the tea delicious. On the bottom tier is an egg mayonnaise sandwich on a roll, a ham and cream cheese spiral, a rectangle of smoked salmon, and tiny shrimp in a phyllo cup. The second tier held the famous Empress scones with clotted cream and jam and the top tier held a variety of tiny decadent sweet morsels - those are shortbread at the very front, and going clockwise, a chocolate mousse and ganache confection, strawberries in a meringue nest, tiny carrot cake loaves, and in the very center, a pistachio mousse entremet that was amazing.
Since we arrived in Virginia, we have been making the rounds of the various tea rooms in an effort to rediscover what we found at the Empress. If you've been reading my posts, you'll know that we've been a little disappointed so far. A couple have come close, but they miss the mark in one area or another. No jam or cream with the scones is the biggest complaint, or for the one tea room that managed to tick that box, the third tier held clunky sweet items that just weren't genteel enough for a real tea. Savoury selections have also been hit and miss.
Never mind, we have yet, thank goodness, to find anything that was truly inedible and we have enjoyed each outing for the simple reason that it's a rare opportunity for us to spend a quiet time together taking tea.
We will continue our search and hope you'll enjoy the tour.
If you want to see some truly magnificent afternoon teas, check out this article in The Telegraph, London's 10 Best Afternoon Teas. Be prepared for sticker shock, and that's before you've done any currency conversion! It is, however, on my Bucket List to enjoy tea at one of these places one day.