Tea Talk

By Mary Beth Schwartz

It is the most widely consumed beverage in the world next to water, and can be found in almost all U.S. households. On any given day, over 160 million Americans are drinking it. The British has been serving it for hundreds of years in royal silver, bone china, and classic red clay Brown Betty pots. They drink approximately 3.32 cups of it a day with milk and/or sugar. The brew in question? Why, tea, of course.

Tea is nearly 5,000 years old. Legend has it, tea was first discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung when tea leaves blew into his pot of boiling water. Tea first became established in Britain because of the influence of Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese queen of Charles II. She brought tea drinking to the English royal court, and set a trend for the beverage among the aristocracy of England in the seventeenth century. Her afternoon teas were served at four o’clock. They were held in the parlor, and guests had to abide by etiquette rules.

Women wore hats and gloves, which were removed for tea and worn again prior to leaving. Guests had to hold their saucers and cups above cleavage level, with the pinky finger held straight out. A fancy doily was placed under the cup to prevent spillage. The spoon had to be placed on the doily of the saucer at the front of the cup – not on the table linens. The handle had to be on the right side for right-handed people, and on the left side for left.

During the 1800s, Anna 7th Duchess of Bedford, and a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, enjoyed afternoon tea – a meal to fight the “sinking feeling” she experienced in the late afternoon. Around four o’clock, Anna would request bread and butter, cakes, and tea be delivered to her sitting room. This ingenious “snack” soon became the talk of the court. Soon she invited friends to join her for bite-sized refreshment – sweets, pastries, fruits, and mini sandwiches, made popular by the Earl of Sandwich.

Queen Victoria learned of the practice and quickly adopted it. By the 1840s, the Queen was having daily formal dress afternoon teas. In 1860, the Queen started the tradition of opening the private gardens at Buckingham Palace to host afternoon teas. Today, over 30,000 people attend the Royal Garden Parties, of which there are three annually.

Teatime for Queen Mary was an elaborate affair. According to Dinner at Buckingham Palace, “Everything had to be ready by four p.m., with sandwiches, cakes and biscuits invitingly set out on gleaming silver dishes upon a smoothly-running trolley. The teapot, cream jug, hot water jug and sugar bowl were always the same antique silver service which had been a favorite of Queen Victoria.” Queen Elizabeth II, on the other hand, enjoys a simpler tea – cucumber sandwiches, cake and tea served with just sugar cubes. Nevertheless, she still wears her tea hat.

Here in the United States, tea played a part in the founding of our country. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was one of the acts leading to the Revolutionary War. The U.S. also played an important role in the history of tea, inventing the tea bag in 1904.

So how does one go about having tea? It can start with a reservation at a tea room. Recently, I enjoyed high tea at Jessica’s Tea Room at the Weaversville Inn. High tea originated with the working class of Britain. They would come home at 6 p.m. for a meal of potted meats, fish, cheeses, salads, sweets and a pot of strong tea.

First a tea selection is made and ordered. I selected a specialty tea, Lady Londonderry, with a hint of strawberry and lemons. “We serve 50 different flavors of tea. We have loose leaf white, green, oolong, black, and Rooibos (red) teas. Our suppliers are Metropolitan Tea Company and Teas From The World,” says Chef/Owner Mark Prostko.

Next the level of tea is decided upon. At Jessica’s, you can do a small cream tea, which is one scone and bread, three finger sandwiches, two pastries, and tea. Or, you can do a large cream tea, which is one scone and bread, five finger sandwiches, two pastries, and tea. Finally, there is high tea, which is a pot of tea, scone and bread, soup, two finger sandwiches, entrée, and pastries. I selected the high tea, which takes about two hours.

Waiting for my tea, I sat back and took in the ambiance of the Victorian tea room set in the historic Weaversville Inn. Dating back to 1835, I saw artistic original woodwork, damask table linens, lace accessories and tables set in fine china. Some of the tea room visitors enjoyed trying on vintage hats, gloves and jewelry.

My tea was placed on a tea warmer so that it would stay hot throughout the meal. Soon after, the first course arrived. I received a diamond shaped white chocolate cranberry scone and a square of fruit bread. Homemade Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam were served on the side. My second course was soup. From a list of soups, I chose the steamy French onion that was full of caramelized onions and topped with baked Swiss, Provolone and Parmesan cheeses. After my ample serving of soup I was shown the tea sandwich tray. For my third course I chose two mini sandwiches – the egg salad, and a chicken salad made with walnuts and apples.

At this point, I was feeling quite full as my fourth course arrived – freshly baked bacon and broccoli quiche topped with cheddar cheese. I decided to take this home for my supper. Last but not least, there was the pastry tray. I was given a choice of eight to pick from. I selected two mini lemon squares for my fifth course.

“We make everything from scratch. From the scones to the entrees to the pastries. Freshness and quality sets us apart from other tea rooms. I make homemade jam in season from rhubarb to strawberry to spiced peach. I make the lemon curd and Devonshire cream. I use ingredients from my own private garden and local farms, such as peaches from Scholl Orchards in Bethlehem, and strawberries from Seiple Farms in Bath,” Prostko says.

Sitting at the table enjoying my final cup of tea, I thought that I simply must make a reservation to bring my mother to Jessica’s on Sunday, May 12 – Mother’s Day. “I recommend the high tea on Mother’s Day. We will have a special menu and all moms receive a flower. Our signature entrée dish is the puffed pastry blossom filled with a variety of ingredients. Once baked, it opens up like a blossom. The Seafood Newburg is popular. It has scallops, shrimp, and crabmeat. We have the homemade quiche. There also is the bruschetta salad – artichoke hearts, fresh mozzarella, diced tomato, and fresh herbs warmed and tossed over mixed greens,” Prostko says.

Along with Mother’s Day, Jessica’s has several tea events throughout the year. “We have had a princess tea, a sweetheart tea for Valentine’s Day, tea with a harpist, a candlelight tea at Christmas, and tea with a gardener, where they discuss flowers and plants for spring and pair them up with tea,” Prostko says. Tea lovers also can book baby and bridal showers, birthday parties, Red Hat Society get-togethers, and children’s parties.

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