After a long period of fasting, one visit may follow another and, moreover, today is also Mother’s Day. So, how to please the lady of the house and potential guests with something original and unforgettable? What about trying to make real English afternoon tea with the kids? Here’s a little guide as to how to go about it.
A Little History
The British attribute the origins of the pleasant tradition of afternoon tea to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. She wondered how best to fill the time gap between light lunches and hearty dinners. Time passed very slowly for her and the Duchess was bored. Therefore, she began to invite her girlfriends to afternoon get-togethers, at which she hospitably served small cakes, sandwiches filled with a variety of fillings and, above all, tea. Bakeries in Britain immediately responded to Anna’s new trend by making small sweets, the familiar tea cake, and the Earl of Sandwich came up with the idea of two slices of fine bread filled with various delicacies, such as smoked salmon or pickled vegetables. Tea itself was initially a great rarity intended only for the richest members of British society – members of the royal family, aristocrats and high-ranking civil servants. Therefore, the tea leaves were stored in a porcelain container in a room occupied only by the family, and the preparation of the beverage itself usually rested with the lady of the house. It was poured into porcelain bowls, which were mostly imported from China or Japan together with tea. As the popularity of adding milk to tea grew, a milk jug became part of the tea service at the beginning of the 18th century. At the time, beautiful tea sets were an indicator of family wealth. Soon, the atmosphere of the afternoon teas was enlivened by music and dancing also began to be popular.
How to Prepare for Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea can have up to eight courses, all accompanied by a ubiquitous cup of tea, optimally a different tea for each course. If you want to organize a tea ritual, set either a table or several smaller tables. There should be place settings, a napkins, cutlery, plates, cups and saucers and a milk jug on the table or tables. If the season is right, the pleasant atmosphere will be underscored by a bouquet of fresh flowers. Prepare tea, extra cups and saucers on a sideboard or separate table. Then, a teapot on a tray, a sieve with a base, a container for hot water and milk. Have sugar, artificial sweetener, honey and lemon slices ready on the table.
How to Brew Tea Properly
- Use good quality teas, not teabags.
- Let the water run for about a minute to aerate before starting to fill the kettle with it. Water that sits in the plumbing or a kettle for a long time has a dead taste.
- As soon as the water is brought to a boil, pour it into the teapot. Boiling water rapidly loses oxygen and therefore any tea made from water that has already been boiled and sat for a while will not have as pleasant a taste. In this case, time is really a critical milestone in quality.
- It is preferable to use bottled spring water over running water, which is full of minerals, and sometimes even toxic chemicals.
- Do not forget to heat the teapot by pouring some boiling water into it for a short time and emptying it again before putting in the tea leaves and boiling water for the tea.
- Use one teaspoon of tea per person and one cup of water. For a teapot that holds more than four cups, reduce the amount slightly.
- Tea with fine Assam leaves is infused for 3 minutes and then stirred once. Teas with medium-sized leaves such as Ceylon or Orange Pekoe, are infused for 4–5 minutes, and large-leaved teas such as Oolong or Earl Gray for 5–6 minutes.
- As soon as the tea is poured for the guests from the teapot, pour the remaining tea into the second, warmed teapot so that it does not become bitter. This we then cover so that the tea does not cool in it, and it is used to refresh guests’ cups.
Tea, or milk? What comes first?
And what now that the tea is ready? What is served first, milk or tea? Just as there are two hostile camps that discuss whether or not one should let red wine breathe before serving and for how long, there are two camps that discuss whether to pour milk or tea into a cup first. Some argue that there is a difference in taste. Of course, if a person pours tea first, then he can regulate how much milk one adds. But others say that if you pour milk first, the cup will not crack due to this, and warmed milk will better bring out the aroma of the tea itself. It is said that milk used to be served first, to allow hosts to cover up the fact that they did not have very high quality porcelain. Tea without milk would be absorbed into a low-quality cup very quickly, leaving a blackish imprint on the sides of the cup, which, of course, did not happen with quality porcelain. Diluting tea with milk was a little trick so as not to reveal the quality at first glance. From today’s point of view, the best thing for me is what best suits each guest. Remember to always have a pot of hot water available when serving in case guests find that the tea is too strong. As a guest, always hold the cups by their ear, do not put your fingers inside the cup, and be careful not to lift your little finger when drinking.
Different Courses, Different Teas
After you have served the tea, sandwiches will follow. Cut them to a size that allows them to be easily eaten by hand, making sure they are slightly crispy and with not too much butter. They can contain a wide range of different fillings from crabs to pâtés to fresh cucumbers. Once the guests have satisfied their taste buds with sandwiches, capture their attention with the next course and serve hot pancakes and muffins with currants and at least two types of jam. Take away guests’ dirty plates and bring clean ones. Boil a large kettle of water for each course and make another type of fresh tea. If the guest’s tea in the cup has cooled down, serve them a clean cup and take away the original one. The next course should be followed by small, sweet and savory tea cakes, coffee, or chocolate eclairs. Then come cupcakes, small cakes (such as madeira, cherries, fruit) and typical tea scones with clotted cream and jam. Clotted cream is fresh whole milk that is heated in a steamer or double boiler and then allowed to cool in flat containers. During cooling, the cream rises and forms clots on the surface. And that’s where the name clotted cream comes from. The cream should contain at least 55% fat, but the more, the better – it usually has about 64% fat. As with any pastry, guests first pick up the jam and cream with a spoon, placing it on their plate, not directly on the cake. The only exception is whipped cream, which can be placed directly on the cake. When serving, the scones are usually cut in half, strawberry jam is spread on the bottom half, followed by a layer of clotted cream and then covered with the other half of the scone. Or the clotted cream is applied first, then jam and then covered.
Or you don’t cover anything and eat the first prepared half first and then the second prepared half. Once again, there are two style camps here – the one in Cornwall claims that it is traditional to apply jam to cakes before clotted cream, while in Devon, clotted cream is traditionally applied first. Always make sure that everything that is served does not need to be eaten with a fork. And just when guests think they can’t handle any more, serve the grand finale: fresh strawberries with cream. Keep in mind that after a tea with so many courses like this, at least 3-4 hours should elapse before dinner is served. For me, therefore, it is enough not to have such a full version, but just having one type of tea, sandwiches, small cakes that you buy in a pastry shop, or pancakes or strawberries with whipped cream and, of course, scones. You cannot have proper English tea without those. I am certain that this version will be enough to ensure your popularity!
Recipe for Real English Tea Cakes Called Scones
- 350 g of spelt whole meal flour
- 2 tablespoons (20 g) light cane sugar (e.g. Light Muscovado, Demerara, etc.)
- 2 teaspoons (6 g) of phosphate-free baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 70 g butter, cold, cut into small pieces
- 1 egg
- 180 ml of milk, preferably whole milk
- 100 g raisins
Milk to coat and light brown cane sugar for sprinkling
Strawberry jam and clotted cream (or, instead of clotted cream, whipped cream)
- Prepare a large baking sheet, covered with baking paper
- In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then add the sliced butter and blend everything together between your fingers until a crumbly mixture is formed. You can also help yourself with a fork or use a hand-held dough mixer.
- In another container, whisk the eggs with the milk and pour them into the bowl with the crumb mixture. Add raisins and knead a dough. The finished dough will be quite wet, but don’t worry, that’s how it should be.
- Using your fingers or rolling pin, spread the dough into a square that is approximately 18 x 18 cm. Cut it into 16 squares, transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, coat them with milk and lightly sprinkle with sugar.
- Preheat the oven to 200 ℃ and bake the scones for 15-20 minutes or until they lightly brown at the edges. Then move the scones from the plate to a wire rack and let them cool.
- Baked scones can be eaten warm or completely cooled, but preferably with a rich layer of clotted cream (or whipped cream) and strawberry jam. From the stated amounts of ingredients, will yield 16 scones.
Best of luck, and may you have many guests and unforgettable experiences!