Monday, December 18, 2017

Afternoon Tea in London

Tea at the Dorchester
 From The Telegraph India:
If your visit to England is short and restricted to the capital, fear not. London’s famous museums and art galleries house some of the best little tearooms in town (the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square is one of them), as do all the large department stores (Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols, or Harvey Nicks to the locals, Knightsbridge has the loveliest modern food arenas). The finest places to take afternoon tea in London are undoubtedly in the city’s best hotels.

We in India drink more tea than anyone else in the world. But for us, it doesn’t smack of the same ritualistic heights practised by the Brits. Seen from a Louis XVI chair at The Ritz in Piccadilly, while the waiters in black tie and tails unravel “the last delicious morsel of Edwardian London”, you feel, briefly, as if time has stood still.

The Savoy, with its Edwardian art deco, used to be the home of the dansant (tea dances). Much more gracious in its airy simplicity is the Orangery in Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens. This used to be Queen Anne’s summer dining hall and is converted into a restaurant, serving tea in the afternoon. English parks and gardens are a secret hideaway for tea — the simple, old-fashioned cuppa and a jam tart is still a staple in most park tuck shops and if it’s spring, you can sit outdoors surrounded by pink blossoms, bluebells and tulips. Petersham Nurseries in the plush London suburb of Richmond serves an enchanting afternoon tea in the middle of green fields and farm animals.

Whenever you find tea, eccentricity is not far away. The most unique tea experience possible must be in the two houses of the Parliament. Afternoon tea is served in several of the restaurants but the most spectacular place is on the terrace of the House of Commons, overlooking the Thames.

So what exactly is afternoon tea? Much credit has been given to Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, who in the 19th century decided to meet the need, commonly suffered by people of high breeding and low on purpose, for an injection of “fuel” during the afternoon. What most books don’t mention is that it was actually Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, who actually introduced tea and all the paraphernalia to England in the 17th century.

It became all the rage at court but it was Josiah Wedgwood (an English potter and entrepreneur) who popularised the habit by making the bone china tea service affordable and Thomas Twining who opened London’s first tea shop that had women patrons. This started an epidemic of tea drinking, which culminated in the popularity of the dansants and three-decker cake stands in the early decades of the 20th century.

Tea today is still a different kettle of fish by several hundred calories to just a cup of dull brown unremarkable-looking liquid. Afternoon tea is always served in bone china on a silver tray (with a lace doily on it) and is accompanied by a parade of thinly-cut, crustless finger sandwiches, filled with razor-thin slices of cucumber, egg and cress, smoked salmon, ham or chicken. Only white or brown bread can be used — no multigrain or anything that looks vaguely healthy and certainly nothing with an Italian sounding name (read focaccia, ciabatta…).
The sweet part consists traditionally of English cakes (Victoria sponge, marble cake, Dundee fruit cake, jam tarts), muffins and crumpets; the last two served warm and ideal for absorbing large quantities of butter. Third, the scones, served warm and sliced open, a perfect vehicle for thick, slightly yellowish clotted cream from Devon, Somerset or Cornwall and whole fruit strawberry jam.

Today, many hotels in particular prefer to serve French-style patisserie instead of old-fashioned English cakes. So, don’t be surprised to find madeleines, mille-feuilles and macarons next to your Earl Grey. Cream tea consists of a pot of tea just with scones, cream and jam and no sandwiches or cakes.

High tea is not a dainty affair. It divides day from night and is served around 3pm-5pm, often making dinner unnecessary. Many smart hotels serve high and afternoon tea at the same time. Please remember that any tea — afternoon or high — is generally only served after lunch and until 6pm. Come after that and you’ll have to order drinks and dinner! (Read more.)
More on afternoon tea in London HERE and HERE.

Information on best Christmas Teas, HERE. Share

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