High Tea at Home

By Donna Jacobs

 


While afternoon tea originated in England around the mid 1800ís, it didnít become vogue in the United States until the past year few years. Women are now celebrating wedding showers, baby showers, birthdays and  Motherís Day and hosting events, fundraisers, and friendly get-togethers with high tea.

Guests and Invitations
When planning an afternoon tea party, the first step is to create a guest list and send out invitations. A lot of preparation can go into an afternoon tea party, so you may want to start with eight to ten guests. Choose an invitation that reflects the theme of your party. For example, if you are throwing a baby shower send invitations with a pink or blue bow. If you are hosting a poetry reading, you can theme invitations like a book or scroll. Most tea parties begin anytime from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and last two to three hours. Invitations are best sent one month beforehand, or six weeks prior in the summer. As a rule of thumb, you can expect half to 2/3 of the guests you invite to arrive.

Theme and Decor
The theme and level of formality will determine whether you use fine china or casual ware. You will need one tea pot per guest and a tea leaf strainer. Each guest will also need a place setting with a plate, knife, fork, spoon, and linen. Tables will need a themed tablecloth and centerpiece. Centerpieces can range from a beautiful bouquet of flowers to  candle arrangements or fresh fruit displays. Other necessities include a sugar bowl, creamer, and butter knives. The music selection will range should enhance the atmosphere of the party rather than take guests interest away from each other. I would recommend classical or light jazz or something else relaxing.

The Tea
It is important to have a wide range of tea for your guests. I recommend offering at least six varieties. Perfect tea starts with a high quality product. Darjeeling tea is considered ideal for afternoon teas. This teas is grown in India at an elevation of 750 - 2000 meters on 86 tea gardens. It can take up to ten years before the leaves are ready to be plucked, so the yield is low, 10 million kilos a year. To help guests find their favorite, have a menu describing the flavor and origin of each tea.

How to Make The Perfect Cup
Start with fresh, cold water, because itís fully oxygenated. If your tap water doesnít taste good, use filtered or bottled.

Measure tea into a preheated pot Ė one teaspoon per 6-8 oz. cup. If you prefer stronger tea, add an extra teaspoon to the pot. (To preheat the pot, pour a little of the boiling water from the kettle into the pot and then pour this water off into the drinking cups to warm them.)

For Black or Oolong tea, pour boiling water over tea immediately. However, if youíre making Green or White tea, allow the water to cool slightly for a minute or so. Boiling water can burn these delicate teas and create a bitter flavor.

Allow tea to steep.  This is a bit tricky because the tea needs to steep long enough to release the full flavor, but over-steeping can make it bitter. Try tasting a spoonful every minute as it steeps to see if itís reached the flavor you want Ė and if you like stronger tea, itís better to add more leaves rather than to steep too long.

Steeping Guidelines:

  • Green Tea: 1-3 minutes

  • Black Tea: 3-5 minutes

  • Oolong Tea: 4-5 minutes

  • White Tea: 5-6 minutes

If you would like to add milk, place it in the bottom of the cup before you pour the tea. It maintains flavor and dissolves into the tea more effectively. Cream or high-fat milk doesnít deliver the best flavor results, so use low-fat milk.  To sweeten, use white sugar as opposed to honey or brown sugar. Also add lemon, if you wish.

The Food
If you are to follow tradition, a high tea party historically serves Welsh rabbit, shepherd's pie, steak, bread, butter, potatoes, pickles, cheese and tea. You will have a hard time finding that cuisine at an afternoon tea party in the U.S.! Afternoon tea parties typically serve finger foods and sweets, such as Cucumber Tea Sandwiches with Mint, Shrimp Toast, Capers and Salmon Sandwiches, Cinnamon Scones, Almond Popovers, Banbury Cakes, Butter Tarts, Clotted Cream, and Devonshire Cream. These delicious recipes are easy to make.

Cucumber Sandwiches

You can't get more refreshing than a mix of cucumber slices and fresh mint. A cool sandwich to go with hot tea. I love the crisp feel of cucumber along with the smooth cream cheese.

1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup butter, soft
1/4 cup cream cheese
16 slices white bread

Blot cucumber slices to dry. In a mixing bowl, blend mint, butter and cream cheese. Spread mixture on each slice of bread. Lay cucumber slices on 8 slices of bread and sprinkle with salt. Top with remaining bread and remove crusts. Cut sandwiches into either halves or quarters.

Cinnamon Scones

If you're new to the world of home-made scones, this is the perfect recipe.

2 cups white flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400F. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Cut in butter. Mix milk, egg and vanilla in another mixing bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir until just moist. Shape dough into an 8-inch round loaf. Cut into 8 wedges and separate slightly. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Makes 8 scones

Devonshire Cream

This isn't a true clotted cream, but it's pretty close. Itís an easy introduction to the fine world of clotted cream on scones.

8 oz cream cheese
12 oz sour cream
Juice from 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Capers and Salmon Sandwiches

These bold sandwiches are not for the faint of heart. The flavors are strong and potent.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbs chives, minced
1 tbs dill, chopped
1 tbs capers
1 1/2 tsp horseradish
8 slices of bread
1 1/2 tsp butter, soft
4 slices smoked salmon
12 slices cucumber, thin

Combine mayo, chives, dill, capers and horseradish. Spread bread with butter, then mayo mixture. Layer with slices of salmon and cucumber, then top with bread. Slice each salmon sandwich into triangles.

Shrimp Toast

You can taste all the hard work that goes into making this warm shrimp spread.

8 slices white bread, sliced thin
1 egg, separated
1 egg yolk
1 lb shrimp, deveined
2 tbs heavy cream
1 tbs vodka
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water chesnuts, finely chopped
2 scallions, minced
3 tbs butter, melted
3 tbs water

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Cut each slice of bread into 4 triangles. Bake on a baking sheet for 30 minutes, until it's dry but not brown. Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg white. Blot shrimp dry on paper towel and puree in a food processor. Add egg white, cream , vodka and salt. Blend until mixed. In a mixing bowl, combine shrimp mixture with water chestnuts and scallions. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees. Add 2 teaspoons of mixture on top of each bread triangle. Beat yolks and water together and brush over each shrimp triangle. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes or until cooked through.

Banbury Cakes

Puff pastry with a filling of mixed peel, raisins and currants. If you like an English flair to your afternoon tea service, then you must serve sweet little Banbury cakes.

1 lb puff pastry
2 oz melted butter
4 oz raisins
4 oz currants
2 oz mixed peel
4 oz brown sugar
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 425F. Combine melted butter, raisins, currants, peel and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Roll out pastry on a floured board. Cut out 16 circles, using a small saucer as a guide. Place some fruit mixture in the middle of each circle. Fold the edges of the pastry up over the fruit and seal closed. Turn each one over and press down gently with a rolling pin. Make 3 diagonal cuts on the tops of each cake and sprinkle with icing sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.
Makes 16 Banbury cakes

Butter Tarts

A simple, classic sweet for afternoon tea. So decadent, it's hard to believe how easy they are to make. If you like to bake, you could try using home-baked tart shells.

2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 cup corn syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Unbaked tart shells

Preheat oven to 350F. Boil corn syrup with sugar for 5 minutes, until fully dissolved. Add butter and stir well. Let cool until just warmer than room temp. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and vanilla. Add egg mixture to sugar syrup. Pour into unbaked tart shells (about 2/3 full). Bake for about 15 minutes. Time may vary depending on how large your butter tarts are.

 

Almond Popovers

Delicate and flaky, loaded with almond flavor. You won't even need to spread anything on these baked gems. Well, maybe a little dollop of clotted cream.

3 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup almond liqueur
3 tbs butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/4 cup toasted almonds, ground
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbs sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375F and move rack to the lowest position in your oven. Grease 6 custard cups (6-oz each). Beat eggs with an electric mixer at low speed for about a minute. Beat in milk, liqueur and butter until well blended. Continue to beat, and add flour, ground almonds and salt. Pour batter into the custard cups, and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 40 minutes. Put a small slit in the top of each one to release steam. Bake for another 5-10 minutes until brown on top. Makes 6 popovers

Clotted Cream

Delicate and flaky little popovers for afternoon tea, loaded with almond flavor. You won't even need to spread anything on these baked gems. Well, maybe a little dollop of clotted cream.

3 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup almond liqueur
3 tbs butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/4 cup toasted almonds, ground
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbs sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375F and move rack to the lowest position in your oven. Grease 6 custard cups (6-oz each). Beat eggs with an electric mixer at low speed for about a minute. Beat in milk, liqueur and butter until well blended. Continue to beat, and add flour, ground almonds and salt. Pour batter into the custard cups, and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 40 minutes. Put a small slit in the top of each one to release steam. Bake for another 5-10 minutes until brown on top.
Makes 6 popovers

 

Visit www.sunrichgourmet.com. Sun Rich has a selection of eight premium Darjeeling teas: Lingia Whole Leaf Black Tea, Lingia Black Tea Autumn Leaf, Chamong Summer Tea, Pussimbing Whole Leaf Black Tea, Pussimbing Silver Marbles Black Tea, Nagri Farm Green Tea, Phoobsering White Tea, and Phoobsering Oolong Tea.

 


Donna Jacobs is an entertaining consultant and lifestyle writer based in Chicago.

Photos by Chris Cassidy.

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