How to Serve High Tea at Home the Proper Way
Next to rare roast beef, "High Tea" has to be Britain's most significant contribution to international cuisine. The practice of having a "cuppa" and a snack at 4 o'clock has become a rock-solid culinary custom in Britain and its former colonies, as well as being a favorite treat among Anglophiles everywhere. Now teatime is becoming a global alternative to entertain guests when getting better acquainted is the main objective.
There are a few rules and rituals that have to be followed to a "T" (pardon the pun), for a successful High Tea. First, the proper time for High Tea is 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Period. While technically Afternoon Tea may be taken at any time, High Tea is distinguished by serving more food and may serve as a supper replacement. The time for High Tea has been confused because many commercial establishments now offer it between 3 and 5 p.m., partly to accommodate crowds of Yanks and others for whom afternoon tea is a novel experience.
Next, a hospitable atmosphere is essential for High Tea. There should be a centrally located table to hold the teapot and trays of comestibles, along with lots of roomy, comfortable seating for people to gather for little chats. Set the tea table with a good tablecloth and cloth napkins and use paper doilies under the cups, saucers, plates, etc. Get several bouquets of seasonal flowers and arrange them in vases and bowls around the room. Then choose some lilting background music that won't drown out conversation.
The proper equipment is essential for High Tea. Invest in a quality teapot, which can be found through any shop that specializes in tea. The queen of all English teapots is known as the "Brown Betty," a little teapot that's short and stout and, well, brown. Today the ceramic Betty comes in many more colors than just brown and she has lots of cousins in other styles, but they all keep the water hot. Rounding out essentials for the tea service are teacups and saucers, teaspoons, a creamer, a sugar bowl with its own spoon, plus spreading knives for butter, jam or clotted cream, dessert plates, dessert forks and spoons. Don't stress if the tea accessories don't match up; a mis matched up set gives an air of tradition, like family heirlooms handed down through generations.
Now comes the most important element: the tea. A gracious host or hostess offers guests as many varieties of tea as possible, from prosaic Orange Pekoe to more exotic Assam Black to zany herbal Rose Hips Tootie-Frootie Enlightenment. Tea has two forms: loose tea, which takes some real skill to brew using an infuser, and teabags, in which one cup's worth of tea is encased in thin white paper. It's no longer considered declasse' to offer teabags for afternoon tea; in fact, it's much appreciated.
And what about the food, you say? Think any kind of light snack or dessert, as long as it's basically finger-food. Tiny sandwiches, little cakes, petit fours, yummy nut breads, fruit tarts, cream puffs, scones and jam, anything along these lines is ideal.
The final element is the guests. Encourage guests to relax and enjoy one another's company and High Tea will be a total success.