The information on our pages about tea is drawn from many sources (see Bibliography).  Some of this is the basis for the tea classes that Sally offers and will also be included in the book she is working on. Proposals have been submitted to 2 well known publishers:  progress updates will be posted on this site!

It may surprise you to know that all tea comes from the Cameillia Sinensis plant, which  has been known to grow to be 5-6 hundred years old. Although the older plants have better flavored leaves, to make a good tea they must be picked every few weeks as only the young leaves and buds are needed. It takes up to 80,000 hand-plucked shoots to produce one pound of top-grade tea, so you can see that producing tea is a very labor intensive process. Each step is vital to ensure a premium end product.  Where the tea is grown, the climate, soil conditions, and how the tea is processed, determines the flavor characteristics of the tea. There are over 3000 varieties of tea each with its own specific characteristics. Teas are named after the region in which they are grown: for example,  Assam is named after the Assam region in India, and Keemun is named after the Keemun region of China.  Tea is harvested after each flush - the sprouting of the top two leaves and bud -  depending on the method of processing (fermented or not), the tea leaves will fall into the four categories of black, green, oolong and white. Over 97 percent of all tea consumed in the United States is black tea.

                               HOW TO HOST THE                                                         PERFECT TEA PARTY

So how can you introduce tea into your life if you haven’t already done so? Tea can, of course, be taken at any time of the day; begin at breakfast with an awakening brew such as Ginseng, a black tea such as English Breakfast or Ceylon, or a refreshing mix such as Lemon Grass and green tea. Then before bed, enjoy a cup of soothing chamomile, a favorite of Peter Rabbit.  Henry James said  in Portrait of a Lady: “There are few hours in life more agreeable that the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”  It is an elegant but inexpensive way to entertain friends, whether you make it formal or casual, with a single friend or a group, outside or in, with a light snack or hearty meal. The ritual of afternoon tea is a civilized and well earned break from a hectic lifestyle; it is also worthwhile gifting yourself with the solitary pleasure. Keep a special pot and cup just for you, indulge in a favorite cake or biscuit and curl up in a comfortable place with a book, some soft music and the cat. Or just sit and inhale the wonderful aroma of your chosen brew while meditating for a few minutes. Bliss!

                                                                                  (Photo:  https://www.theritzlondon.com/dine-with-us/afternoon-tea/)

Afternoon tea is traditionally served between 3 and 6 pm. Oh, and it's "have" tea, not "take" tea. The earlier the hour, the lighter the food: “High Tea” is more of a dinner with heavier cooked dishes, and not the dainty fancies and finger sandwiches that the term often seems to represent in the US. One of the best things about preparing an afternoon tea is that you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen: at least bread, butter, jam and the fixings for scone. If you really want to do it properly, plan ahead for a tea party with friends, and send out invitations.
If you are planning on having an open fire, try toasting crumpets on long forks. Serve your tea in the living room from a cart or individual small tables; if you have a large gathering, however, it can be served on a large table. If it is summer time you can take your party outside, but beware of hungry insects. Have some gentle music in the background; many tea rooms have a harpist or pianist playing and these are ideal to create a soothing atmosphere.
The food - Prepare your food as close to the arrival time as possible to ensure freshness: it’s always wonderful to greet your guests with the delicious smell of freshly baked scones, and to serve them still warm from the oven. Accompany them with fresh strawberries and cream or strawberry jam. “Finger” foods are the general rule as they are easy to eat, especially if you are not sitting at a table. Have a couple of types of sandwiches – they should be small and dainty, on thinly cut bread with the crusts removed – and a selection of cookies and/or a cake. Sometimes a light desert is also served, often made with fruit.
The cake stand - A three-tiered cake stand is perfect for the food. The “proper” way to arrange the stand is sandwiches/savories on the bottom, scones in the middle and sweets on the top.  
The table and accoutrements - Always use a pretty table cloth and napkins – no paper! China tea cups and saucers are a must; no heavy mugs today.

You will need a kettle, a teapot, a jug with milk, a plate of thinly cut (not wedges) lemon slices with lemon fork, and a bowl of sugar cubes with tongs. Do try  to use sugar cubes – they look elegant and they are not so messy. You’ll also need a tea strainer and small dish to rest it in as you will be using loose tea - absolutely NO tea bags.
The plates and flatware can be put at each person’s place at table. While finger foods are just that, the scones will require a small knife for spreading the jam and cream. If you have a particularly creamy desert, s mall fork should be used. Of course, you will also need a cup and saucer for each guest.  These and the teapot will be placed at one end of the table where the host/ess sits (see the Etiquette section below).

The tea itself - And now for the most important ingredient – the tea! But which type? There are many varieties of tea and it can be confusing trying to decide which to serve. The flavor depends on the altitude of the plantation, the soil conditions, the weather, when it is harvested and the final process of blending. Always try and use the best quality tea that you can afford. I would suggest having both a black and a green tea for choice. Depending on how confident you are with the process (and how much space/how any teapots you have!), you could also offer a decaffeinated tea.
So: your friends have arrived, the atmosphere is set with a fire crackling away and relaxing music, your scones are baked, your table is set with your pretty china … just what IS the best way to serve the brew? There are rules, I hear you ask? Most definitely.

Brewing the perfect cuppa:

  • You must start with fresh cold water and avoid using any unused water a second time.
  • When it is hot (but not yet boiling), pour a little into your pot(s) and put the kettle back to boil. Try not to use metal teapots  as the metal can affect the flavor.
  • Swirl the hot water gently around the pot(s) to warm and then empty. This will keep the tea hotter longer.
  • The amount of tea used is a matter of personal choice; a general rule is one teaspoon for each cup to be poured, the maximum being the maximum amount of cups the pot will hold. However, if using a strong tea, experiment with what tastes best; you don’t want your tea to have a  bitter taste. The heat from the warmed pot will begin drawing the flavor from the leaves.
  • Put the lid on the pot and put it by the kettle while waiting for the water to finish heating. "Always take the pot to the kettle" was the mantra when I was growing up - water loses approximately 1 degree per second so you want it to be as near the correct temperature as possible.  
  • Now – to boil or not to boil? That is indeed the question. Most of us Brits grew up learning that water should always be at a rolling boil to make tea; when you take the kettle from the heat, the water will cool at one degree per second and this is why you take the teapot to the kettle. This is perfectly fine for the heartier black teas upon which I was raised, but is rarely required for finer teas. A temperature guide can be found below; try and follow it using a cooking thermometer, but don’t worry too much if you don’t rigidly adhere to it. Today there are kettles available which brew at different temperatures for different teas: we use them in the tearoom.
  • Put the lid on the pot and let the tea steep; again refer to the guide below.
  • Use a strainer when pouring the tea into the cups unless you intend to do tea leaf readings, and serve with milk, sugar or lemon as desired.
  • Any water that is not used, immediately pour off before using the leaves a second time, as allowing the leaves to steep too long will also result in a bitter taste. Some teas however, can stand more than one steeping: Jasmine Pearl, for example, can be used up to 3 times before discarding the leaves. As an alternative, use a teapot with a brewing basket which can be removed after the correct brewing time has been reached. Some people also decant the breed tea into a second (warmed) pot from which they serve.

  • White Tea  : 175–185F (79–85C)
  • Green Tea : 185–190F (85–88C)
  • Oolongs :     180–185F (82–85C)
  • Blacks :        195–205F (90-96C)
  • Pu-erhs :      212F (100C) rolling boil
Tea Etiquette

For a traditional hosted afternoon tea, the tea set and accoutrements are placed at the end of the table at which the hostess presides. The necessary number of cups for the guests is placed on her right.   A guest of honor should be seated to the right of the hostess.

How do you take tea? - The hostess then asks each guest in turn how they take their tea – strong or weak. For strong tea, pour the cup ¾ full; for weaker tea, ½ full. Do not fill to the rim as this will leave no room for milk if required and can also easily spill over.

The hostess asks if the guest would like milk, sugar, lemon and adds accordingly. Place a spoon on the saucer if needed. The hostess then hands the cup to the guest.

** TEA TIP ** Although this topic has been hotly debated, the milk should be added after the tea in order to be able to gauge the strength and color of the brew. Sugar should be added before lemon or the citric acid of the lemon will stop it from dissolving properly.

** TEA TIP ** Milk should not be added to white or green teas or herbal tisanes.

** TEA TIP ** Put the lemon in the tea after it has been poured, not before. Do not put a slice of lemon on the saucer to be added later. Do not take your lemon slice out of the cup and put it on your saucer. Do not “squish” your lemon slice against the side of the cup with your spoon in the mistaken belief that it will release more flavor.

Stirring - When stirring the tea, do so gently and noiselessly. Move the spoon backward and forward in the center of the cup, not round and round in a circle around the edge, and do not “chink” it against the cup. Remove and place in the saucer behind the cup so that the handle of the spoon is facing towards you in the same direction of the cup handle.

Holding the set - When drinking the tea, both saucer and cup are held. Place the saucer in the palm of the left hand and rest it on the four fingers. The thumb is used to gently steady the rim. Hold the cup with the index finger through the handle, the thumb is just above it to support the grip and the second finger is below the handle. Do not cradle the cup in the hand by not using the handle. Do not swirl the tea around.
** TEA TIP ** Another favorite debate is the pinky-up verses pinky-down question. It is actually considered unmannerly to hold your little finger out while drinking tea.
** TEA TIP ** Do not slurp your tea or blow on it to cool it. If it is too hot, set it back on the saucer and wait.
Napkin Use – Pick up your napkin and unfold it on your lap, not above the table. If you have a large dinner napkin, it should be left folded in half and placed on your lap with the fold facing towards you. A smaller napkin can be unfolded completely. Should you need to leave the table, put the napkin on your chair, pushing your chair in after you stand up.
The hostess will signal the end of the tea by taking careful note to ensure all the guests have finished and will then place her napkin to the left of her plate. Everyone else should do likewise.
** TEA TIP ** It is considered unmannerly to place one’s used napkin back on the table before the hostess does so with hers.  

Eating – Wait until everyone has been served their tea before eating. Start with the sandwiches and savories, then the scones, then the desserts. The hostess will serve cake if there is one. Scones traditionally should be broken in half or bite sized pieces and not cut with the knife which should only be used for spreading.

** TEA TIP ** Jam or cream on the scone first? This is really a matter of personal preference but a hot topic between the counties of Devonshire (cream first, jam on top) and Cornwall (jam first, cream on top). Either way, never sandwich the halves back together!

** TEA TIP ** How do you pronounce scone? In the US it is typically pronounced “scone” to rhyme with “cone.” In the UK, it depends on where you are from. Those who rhyme it with “con” predominate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. Those who rhyme with “cone” predominate in southern Ireland, the Midlands and London. The rest of the country is a mixture of the two pronunciations.

Passing – Pass food from left to right.

And there you have it. All you have to do now is sit back, help yourself to scones or crumpets oozing with butter, sip on your brew in the time honored tradition, and enjoy!