Let’s face it: we’re all busy. Who has time to take a break let alone fuss with the pomp and circumstance surrounding the practice of afternoon tea?
But maybe we should make the time. Brian Haber, owner of Clayburn Village Store and Tea Shop, refuses to serve afternoon tea before 2 p.m. to leave adequate space between patrons visiting the tea room for lunch and those coming to observe the ceremony of afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea, also called high tea, has its roots in British culture and has been served in upscale hotels like the Fairmont Empress in Victoria since the early 1900s. Now popularized, afternoon tea can be found in hotels, boutique bakeries, and tea rooms across North America.
My original understanding of tea came from a working holiday as a nanny in England. The area I lived in used the term “tea” to mean dinner. Afternoon tea was lunch leftovers, and cream tea featured a variety of scones, savories, sweets, and other desserts. An essential part of tea is Devonshire cream, which is clotted cream served on scones with preserves.
In North America you will find afternoon tea served between lunch and dinner on decorative chinaware. Although afternoon tea can take many forms, in general the food consists of miniature sandwiches and quiches, fancy pastries, and cakes.
Where to Enjoy Afternoon Tea
Abbotsford offers a variety of ways to indulge in afternoon tea. For an authentic experience look no further than Clayburn Village Store and Tea Shop. Enjoy the handcrafted spread featuring Edwardian sandwiches, salmon pinwheels, and a variety of English pastries. Served between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. you are encouraged to leave your cell phone off and use tea as a time to reflect on your day. Afternoon tea is an extravagant ceremony and must be booked 48 hours in advance.
For a customized high tea experience, Tracycakes Bakery Cafe offers a variety of packages so everyone can take part. It’s Tracycakes’ policy to have high tea available for walk-in orders, but since the kitchen needs 20 minutes to prepare high tea, reservations are encouraged. They also offer a take-out version if you’re hosting high tea for a bridal shower or other event.
Served in-house, salon cafe Little White House offers afternoon tea as a regular menu item featuring elegant finger sandwiches, hot savories, scones served with artisan preserves and Devonshire cream, dainties, pastries, fancies, and more.
Host Your Own Afternoon Tea
With tea time what you serve is as important as how it is served. If you’re hosting afternoon tea have fun with it. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Your table’s focal point should be a tiered cake stand. If you don’t have one use your best serving dishes and crockery. Under this should be a decadent table cloth (stripes or florals are best), a liberal use of doilies, folded napkins, and (of course) nameplates.
Aim for floral chinaware, but don’t worry about things matching. You should make sure to have a teapot, teacups, silverware, cake slicer, dessert plates, and cream and sugar dispensers. Your jams, preserves, and clotted cream should be plated in fancy serving dishes with utensils.
Although luxurious, afternoon tea isn’t meant to be a meal. Think small and dainty for everything. Your tiered cake stand should have a layer of miniature sandwiches, a layer of scones, and a layer of teacakes. Also good to have are a variety of savoury and sweet items like pastries and desserts.
Hot tea is assumed but iced tea is also appropriate with afternoon tea. As well you can create special Pimm’s cocktails and mimosas if you so desire.
For your hot teas offer a variety, everything from Earl Grey to fruit. If you have loose leaf now is the time to bring it out! Brew your tea between three and six minutes to maximize the flavour and health benefits.
Most venues have a relaxed dress code for afternoon tea but this is the perfect excuse to dress up.When eating place your napkin on your lap, not on the table. Since the food is miniature it’s acceptable to treat it as finger food. However, if it’s messy use a fork.
And yes, there is a right way to stir your tea. Place your spoon in a six o’clock position in the cup and fold the tea towards the 12 o’clock position (without clinking!). Hold the handle of your teacup using your thumb and your first one or two fingers. Avoid blowing on the tea and when you’re not drinking tea, place the cup on the saucer.
I can’t think of the last time I took time to savour the moment. Enjoying a decadent afternoon tea seems like the perfect way to slow down and reflect on my day.
Robyn Roste lives and works in Abbotsford. She loves telling stories and learning more about her city.