7 July 2009

Tea at Three ... Part 1

I love a proper English tea-time. I love the ceremony of it. I love the miniature food, and the dainty steaming cups.

I don't however, necessarily enjoy paying far too much for this little afternoon treat. Truth is, for a cup of tea and some small pieces of food, prices for this afternoon thrill can be a bit extortionist. So, what's a girl with Darjeeling dreams and Tetley budget to do? Well, with a modicum of skill and imagination, she can easily play hostess and and invite the ladies 'round for a cuppa. So over the course of this week, let's look at how to plan a tea party, shall we.

There are a few essentials necessary for a proper British tea, tea being the obvious one. Tea is a fickle beast and it does need to be brewed properly to enjoy it to its fullest. Make sure your water is at a full rolling boil. Don't try to get away with hot tap water. Prime the pot prior to adding your tea, by adding a bit of boiling water and swirling it around and then tipping it out. Now, add your tea bags, and allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes (a little less if you like your tea weak; a little more if you prefer it strong) . Keep the pot warm if possible, either with a cute cozy or buy wrapping a tea towel around it. This feminine little cozy, made by susanskeepsake would look right at home on your tea-table.

Although, I do live with a Tetley budget, I know of a store in my town that carries a selection of very good teas. Every few months during end of seasonal sales, they discount many of the teas to make way for new flavours, and seasonal favorites. I take this opportunity to stock up on fine teas. One of my favorite tea blenders is Harney and Sons, based in Connecticut. I love that they donate a portion of their sales to 1% For the Planet. Moreover, I am enamoured with their pretty, perfectly white, pyramid shaped silk tea-bags.

One of my recent favorite teas is one of their holiday blends that I picked up in the post-Christmas sales. Though it has notes of warm, wintry spices and fruits, the staggering aroma makes it my new year-round favorite.

If you are a girl who likes to take a walk on the wild side, you could also try brewing loose teas. Loose teas can in fact be a rather inexpensive option as if you are able to buy them in bulk, you can purchase only the quantity that you would need for your party. Loose teas are often available in bulk and heath food stores, and in urban centres, you may be able to find a tea shop that specialises in them.

To make loose tea, the process is nearly identical as the brewing technique above. It is important to either have a teaball to contain the leaves, or a strainer to filter the water through the leaves. Unless, of course you have invited a tea reader to your party. In that case, let the leaves flow and settle into the bottom of the cups.

To accommodate the varying tastes of your guests, I suggest having a few tea options on hand. Offer some non-caffeinated and herbal varieties. Remember also, that many teas do not go well topped with milk. Have honey, sugar and lemon available as well. If you are hosting a party during the warmer months, I also see no problem with taking a cue from the Southern States, and serving your tea iced.

Equally important to an afternoon tea is the delicious finger foods that will accompany the brew. The original purpose of tea time after all was to tame the tummy-grumblies in that long stretch between a noon-time lunch and a late evening dinner. Tomorrow, we will begin the tempting journey through the tiered serving platter. In the meantime, why not put the kettle on?

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