Afternoon Tea

By Paula Kirwan


In the mid-1800s, England’s 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna Marie, created the tradition of afternoon tea. In those days, most people ate only two meals a day, a large breakfast late in the morning and a late dinner around 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening. Anna Marie found herself getting very hungry around 5 p.m., so she began asking her servants to bring her some sweets and tea to help curb her hunger until dinner time (photo, right: English Pink Lustreware teapot).


The light repast became a favorite afternoon pastime, so Anna Marie invited her friends to join her. Not only did the guests enjoy the refreshments, they were also able to catch up on gossip and chat about the latest fashions and scandals. This leisurely gathering soon became popular with the aristocratic class and a new social event was created. 


By the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea, also called “low tea,” became common within the growing middle class, as well. Today, the tradition of afternoon tea is an integral part of English culture, and the practice has spread to this and other countries, as well. In modern times, afternoon tea is often held in mid-afternoon, around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. (photo, left: English Pink Lustreware teacup and saucer).  


If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to entertain a few friends in a relaxed but charming atmosphere, an afternoon tea is a lovely way to do it.  It’s easy to plan and execute, as refreshments are simple, but elegantly served. Start with a tasty tea like Earl Grey, Assam or Darjeeling, and serve scones and jams, assorted pastries or small sweets, such as petit fours (photo, right: classic petit fours on a Japanese porcelain platter with gilt details).   


Delicious ready-made confectioneries are available from the supermarkets or club stores, or if you’re a baker, a tea party is the perfect time to show off your delicious homemade pastries (photo, left: mini cupcakes).


Table décor begins with a lace or decorative table cloth and cloth napkins, a silver tea service or a pretty teapot, and a cream and sugar set. Next up: you’ll need cups and saucers, plates, flatware, and for the sweets, several glass or china platters, or a tiered server (photo, right: marzipan fruits on an English Pink Lustreware tiered server). A vase of flowers can be added to finish the tablescape. 


Attention to details is just as important as your hospitality and menu, and small touches go a long way. For example, use sugar cubes and tongs instead of granulated sugar. If you have a bone china cup and saucer collection – or have thought about starting one – this is a perfect time to use it, as the variety of patterns look lovely on the table.  Use doilies on your platters for a lacy and delicate look. Use sugared pansies on your pastries, as they are easy to make (photo, left).


But before you begin, just remember that Gaslamp is a virtual treasure trove for finding unique, vintage pieces to add to your own treasures. These will create a distinctive and stylish party that your guests will remember for a long time.












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