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Archive for Coffee & Tea

GIFT OF THE DAY: Fine Teas From Steven Smith Teamaker

Steven Smith Chamomile Tea

Steven Smith Teas

Steven Smith Lord Bergamot Tea

[1] A calming herbal blend. [2] The selection of black, green, herbal and white teas will please everyone. [3] Lord Bergamot, the company’s version of Earl Gre;, powerfully blended (all photos courtesy Steven Smith Teamaker).

 

Steven Smith of Portland, Oregon was* tea royalty in the U.S., first as co-founder of Stash, then as founder of Tazo, then as co-founder, with wife Kim, of Steven Smith Teamaker.

Steve not only had the expertise; he had the commitment to seeking out the best, and the palate to know the best. When he started his eponymous label, his curated teas were noticeably superior to other “superior” tea brands.

The company’s staff travels the globe to to personally select the finest small-batch teas and botanicals. They buy from longtime colleagues in the world’s best tea-growing regions in Africa, India, China and Sri Lanka.

We drink a lot of tea, and try every brand that comes our way. There are many “artisan teas” that arrive in beautiful packaging, but trust us: Steven Smith’s teas are the best we can remember having. While the shape of the sachets (tea bags) and tins of loose tea looks familiar, the artistry inside is unique. For example:

  • Assam is big and malty black tea, blended by Smith with a bit of smoky Keemun.
  • Lord Bergamot is an “upgrade” of Earl Grey tea that combines Ceylon and Assam teas with the bergamot oil from Reggio Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot.
  • Meadow blends chamomile flowers with hyssop, linden flowers, rooibos and rose petals—a memorable herbal infusion.
  • Rose City† Genmaicha, our favorite green tea, grassy with the light, nutty flavor of roasted rice. Here, the unique touch is a bit of rose petal and manuka honey.
  •  
    Prices vary based on the cost of the ingredients, but an example with Lord Bergamot:

  • 2 ounce package of loose tea (for stocking stuffers), $5.50
  • 4-ounce packs $10.00
  • Loose tea tins $11.99
  • Box of 15 sachets, $11.99
  •  
    Steven Smith Teamaker teas are all natural, gluten free, GMO free. The bags are compostable.

    Each container has a batch number that you can enter to see the provenance of the ingredients, the date it was packed, and personal notes from the tea blender.

    SPECIAL HOLIDAY BLENDS

    Celebrate the season with:

  • Silent Night herbal blend won’t keep you up at night. The caffeine free ingredients include locally-grown peppermint and sweet blackberry leaves accented with cassia (cinnamon), ginger root, sarsaparilla and sweet licorice root.
  • Morning Light black tea blend combines high-grown Ceylons, caramelized North Indian Assam, wild rosemary and a pinch of Northwest Douglas Fir needles. Oh Tannenbaum! (Check out this version, sung in English by Aretha Franklin.)
  •  
    Each tin is $14.99.

    There are dozens of teas, each totally wonderful with or without milk and sugar, along with:

  • Gift Sets: Chocolate Peppermint Latte or Creme Caramel Latte Kit, $25.00, are just two of the gift sets that any tea lover will be happy to receive. Check out the gift sets.
  • Franklin.)
     
    Custom-label tins are available for wedding parties, in blends customized to the couple’s preferences.
     
    HEAD TO SMITHTEA.COM TO BEGIN YOUR TEA ADVENTURE.

    If you’re in the Portland area, stop by the tasting room for a cup or two.

    WANT TO EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF TEA?

    Check out our Tea Glossary.

     
    ________________
    *Mr. Smith passed away last year.

    †Portland is called the Rose City for its proliferation of roses. The climate is ideal for growing roses outdoors: warm, dry summers, rainy and mild winters, plus heavy clay soils.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pour-Over Coffee At Home

    Chemex Coffee Maker

    Chemex Coffee Maker

    New Chemex Brewer

    [1] The 1941 Chemex design, represented at the Museum of Modern Art and other museums (this photo is from the Brooklyn Museum Of Art). It’s $49.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. [2] A freshly-dripped carafe of coffee (photo courtesy ZeteDesign.Wordpress.com). [3] The latest Chemex design, which adds a handle for easier pouring, was actually one of the original designs before the streamlined design was chosen. It’s $43.50 at Williams-Sonoma.

     

    Waiting at a coffee bar recently, we overheard a customer watching her pour-over dripping into the cup. She said to the barista: “I wish I could do this at home!”

    You can, it’s easy, and a lot less expensive than the pour-over, which took four passes from the barista.

    In fact, in our youth…
    …there were no specialty coffee bars (your take-out choice was Dunkin Donuts or a deli or diner),
    …coffee at home was limited to a percolator or instant coffee, and
    …people chose either Folgers or Maxwell House, but
    …coffee aficionados made their coffee in a Chemex carafe with their favorite ground beans, usually from the supermarket although the real connoisseurs got mail-order beans from specialty shops.

    If they were lucky, they lived in a town with a specialty coffee and tea shop, with loose beans and packaged coffee from around the world.

    We were lucky: We lived in New York City, which had McNulty’s Tea & Coffee, established in 1895 and still located at 109 Christopher Street in the West Village (and still not open on Sundays).

    A visit to McNulty’s was a trip back to another age. Today, the journey is accented with modern coffee makers and gadgets that didn’t exist at the time.

    But the aroma is still the same: an exotic mingling of the many aromas of coffees and teas from around the world, kept in large glass canisters. There were burlap sacks of beans and chests of tea with stenciled markings from far away lands. The brass scale was also from the 19th century.

    Amid the tea and coffee was one ultra-modern brewing apparatus: the Chemex drip coffee maker.

    THE HISTORY OF POUR-OVER (DRIP) COFFEE

    Pour over, also called manual drip brewing or the drip method, is a fashionable new term for an old, low-tech method of coffee brewing.

    Ground coffee is added to a ceramic or plastic cone that sits in a paper filter atop a glass carafe, ceramic pot, coffee cup or other receptacle. The Chemex system eliminates the need for a cone by creating a carafe with a narrow neck that holds the filter.
     
    Melitta, The First Pour-Over

    The pour-over technique was invented by a German housewife, Melitta Benz, in 1908. Displeased with the grittiness and murkiness of coffee as it was then prepared, she devised a paper filter from a sheet of her son’s notebook paper, and set the filter into a brass cup into which she punched holes for the coffee to drip through.

    The commercial version was made in ceramic (today available in ceramic or plastic). As anyone who has used a Melitta drip brewer knows, it became a great success for its superior brew.

    Fast-forward a few decades, to inventor Peter Schlumbohm, a Ph.D chemist who had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany. He developed and sold his patents focused on heating and cooling systems, the thermos bottle and dry ice manufacturing among them.

    In 1941, he released the Chemex drip coffee system with the coffee filter placed in a glass carafe.

    Like the Melitta, the filter was filled with ground coffee and hot water, which drip-drip-dripped into the carafe.

     
    Like the Melitta, it wasn’t the fastest cup of coffee around, but people with palates applauded the superior flavor. If you liked good black coffee, drip coffee was the way to go.

    Its Bauhaus style design, elegant in thermal glass from Corning, received a big endorsement from the design community and was featured on the cover of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Useful Objects in Wartime” bulletin, making it “the official poster-child of [the] new emphasis on undecorated, functional simplicity [source]. It is included in the design collection of the Museum.

     

    The Next Revolution In Home Coffee Brewing

    In 1971, the first electric drip coffee maker to hit the consumer market, Mr. Coffee, revolutionized how many Americans brewed their coffee. Adios, percolator; bienvenidos, Mr. Coffee.

    Mr. Coffee engendered shelves full of electric drip brands, which remained paramount until the Keurig single-serve beverage brewing system and the proliferation of K-Cup options too hold. In 2002, some 10,000 units were sold to offices, replacing the Bunn system and the need to clean the coffee pots and drink coffee that had been sitting on the burner for too long.

    Consumers loved the Keurig system, and by 2006, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters had acquired a stake, signed up leading coffee brands for the K-Cups

    Gosh, has it only been ten years?
     
    THE RETURN OF POUR-OVER

    While the Melitta, Chemex and other pour-over apparatuses remained a niche product, our first experience with the modern pour-over took place in 2006 in San Francisco, where the line of customers stretched around the block to get a cup from Blue Bottle Coffee.

    As our job is to know what’s new and wonderful in the world of food and drink, we waited for some 25 minutes. Sure, it was a good cup of coffer, but we didn’t do it again.

    And we didn’t have to: The trend proliferated, and soon there was enough drip coffee in our own neighborhood to eliminate the line wait.

    Which brings us to the present: pour-overs at home.

    You can still buy a Melitta, and an improvement on it, the Pour-Over Coffee Maker with Water Tank Good Grips.

    The water stays hot in the mini-tank instead of in an open filter. All you need is add ground coffee and hot water—no paper filter.

    The set (photo at right) is just $15.99 at Oxo.com
     
    Drip Tips

    Drip coffee requires a particular technique to ensure that your brew is as good as Blue Bottle’s.

    Here are Blue Bottle’s drip coffee-making tips.

     

    Pour Over Coffee Oxo

    Melitta Ceramic Coffee Maker

    [4] It’s easy to make pour-over coffee at home with this $15.99 system from Oxo. [5] The modern Melitta system is $29.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. You can also buy a $3.99 plastic cone to brew a cup atop your own cup or mug.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Cold Brew Coffee With A French Press

    The average American drinks 2.1 cups of coffee a day. Collectively, Americans drink 4,630 cups of coffee each second. And September 29th is National Coffee Day.

    Cold brew coffee, which has been around quite a while (we’ve had a Toddy cold brew system for 20+ years), has finally hit the mainstream.

    Coffee drinkers find it has superior flavor; and in the summer, iced coffee is as easy as adding cold water to cold-brew concentrate from the fridge. (Here are some well-reviewed brands).

    Companies from Folgers to Blue Bottle sell cold-brew coffee. You can buy large bottles of concentrate; you can buy grab-and-go 16-ounce bottles.

    Yet, if you have a French press, you can make trendy cold brew coffee without purchasing a special cold brew system or a bottle of ready-brewed. The French press recipe is below. But first:
     
    WHAT’S A FRENCH PRESS?

    A French press is a coffee-brewing device consisting of a pot with a removable plunger made of fine mesh.

    Coarse-ground coffee is added to the pot, followed by boiling water. The plunger device is placed on top. The coffee grounds float in the water.

    When the coffee is ready to be poured, the plunger is employed. As it is pushed down, the grounds are pushed to the bottom. It does not use electricity; although you likely need it to heat the water.

    If you have a French press, there’s no need to buy a cold brew system, or pricey bottles of cold brew coffee at retail.

    Today, you can find coffee presses in stainless steel, in a stainless holder with a glass beaker (photo #1), and in plastic.

    French presses are made in sizes from 1-2 cups to 10 cups or more. There are travel mug versions, of course: We use this coffee press “mug” from Bodum.

    French press or coffee press is the name in English; although in In New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the apparatus is known as a coffee plunger. In France it is called cafetière à piston; in Italy it is a caffettiera a stantuffo.
     
    Brewing Tea In A French Press

    You can use a French press to brew loose tea as well, but don’t use a press that is used to brew coffee. Even after washing, microscopic bits of coffee oil can cling to the glass or metal, imparting an unwelcome undertaste to the tea.

       

    Classic French Press

    Cold Brew Coffee  Concentrate

    [1] The classic design of the modern French press (this one is from Bonjour). [2] One of the artisan cold-brews sold at retail (photo courtesy Jittery John’s).

     
    With both coffee or tea, be sure to pour it soon after brewing. Letting the grounds or tea leaves sit under the brewed beverage creates a bitter brew, not a better brew.
     
    Conceived In 1852

    The first known design for a plunge-type brewer was patented in 1852 by two French designers, Mayer and Delforge. You can see their design at PerfectlyGroundCoffee.com.

    Per Brooklyn Roasting it was ahead of its time; manufacturing was not precise enough to snugly fit the filter within pot of the design.

    Others tried their hand, but the first iteration of brewer that we know today was patented by Italian designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta in 1929. They employed a rubber seal around the edge of the filter.

    The design evolved, with improved the function of the rubber seal.

    The design we know today was patented by a Swiss designer, Faliero Bondanini, in 1958. It was manufactured in France and called a chambord. With a compact design and no required electrical outlet, it became a very popular brewing method.

     
    HOW TO MAKE COLD BREW COFFEE IN A FRENCH PRESS

    These instructions are proportions for an 8-cup French press. Remember that the “standard” cup size used by manufacturers was set long before coffee mugs and modern insulated travel mug containers were in use. So if you use a large mug, you’ll get 4 mugs worth from an 8-cup press, or three 16-ounce travel mugs.

    Use only coarse-ground coffee. Smaller grains will slip through the mesh filter and produce unacceptable coffee.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup coffee, coarsely ground
  • 3 cups water, room temperature
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    Preparation

    1. PLACE the coffee in an 8-cup French press. Add the water. Stir the grinds to integrate with the water.

    2. PLACE the French press plunger on top (do not plunge into the water) and place in the fridge for 12 hours.

    3. PRESS down on the plunger, which pushes all the grounds to the bottom, underneath the mesh filter. Pour and enjoy cold with ice, or warm in the microwave.
     
    TIP: Depending on how well the coffee is ground, a few grounds may escape into the coffee. Our mom further poured the coffee through a piece cheesecloth. We don’t.

     

    Stainless French Press

    Manual Coffee Grinder

    [3] Fashionable restaurants bring coffee to the table in a French press (photo courtesy Kabuki Japanese restaurants). [4] It’s easy to grind your own beans for a French press, since the coffee is coarsely ground (photo of manual coffee grinder from FrenchPressCoffee.com).

     

    COFFEE TRIVIA

    We start with an important fact for the many people who want more or less caffeine:

    There is no association between caffeine levels and flavor (e.g. strong coffee). The major difference comes from amount of coffee used and, most importantly, the brewing technique.

    Cold brew has the most caffeine, followed by drip coffee and espresso.

    Take this fun coffee trivia quiz.

    Here are more fun facts from THE NIBBLE and BeFrugal.com.

  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity on Earth, after oil.
  • Coffee beans are actually the seeds of berries, which grow on a shrub or small tree.
  • Teddy Roosevelt is said to have consumed one gallon of coffee a day.
  • The first webcam was invented by scientists at the University of Cambridge, so they could monitor when their coffee pot was full.
  • It is not true that light-roasted coffee has more caffeine than dark-roasted coffee. In terms of the ground coffee, light-roasted has more because the roasted beans are denser. However, once brewed, darker roasts have more caffeine.
  •  
    Facts About Decaf

  • The amount of caffeine in coffee varies a lot. It can depend on the beans (robusta has much more than arabica), the portion size, but most importantly the brewing technique.
  • Decaf doesn’t mean caffeine-free. According to FDA regulations, coffee must have 97% of its original caffeine removed in order to be labeled as decaffeinated. Drink 5-10 cups of decaf a day and you’ll likely be consuming the equivalent of a cup or two of regular coffee in terms of caffeine content.
  • While a cup of regular coffee usually contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine, a 2007 Consumer Reports test of 36 popular brands found some decaf cups that still packed in more than 20 milligrams of caffeine. But the difference in a cup of brewed coffee is truly minimal.
  • A minority brew: According to the National Coffee Association, just 10% of coffee drinkers in the U.S. opt for decaf. At a coffee house or cafe, the percent can be almost double.
  •  
    Here are more decaf coffee facts.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Tea Party Ideas, Part 2

    Tea Sandwiches

    Modern Tea

    Tea Party Crostini

    [1] Tea can be classically staged, like this one from Tea Time Magazine, or [2] modern service, like this at the Langham Palace | New York. Instead of classic British tea sandwiches on crustless bread, you can substitute tartines—French open-face sandwiches—or Italian crostini. Here’s a close-up from Honestly Yum.

     

    Yesterday we tendered the idea of a monthly tea party. That list covered January through July. Today: the rest of the year.
     
    AUGUST TEA PARTY

  • Iced Tea Party. What could be more refreshing in the dog days of summer than a iced tea with strawberry shortcake scones topped with vanilla ice cream? Offer guests the choice of black, green and herbal iced teas, with lemon and lime slices.
  • Iced Tea & Sorbet Sundae Bar. Cut up the many luscious fruits in season and create a fruit salad bar. Sorbet is half the calories of ice cream and frozen yogurt.
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    SEPTEMBER TEA PARTY

  • Teen Tea Party. Take your teenager (or someone else’s) out for a tea experience and ask him or her to bring a friend. Share your love of tea and some good conversation as you give them a glimpse of the past and a custom enjoyed by everyone from kings to common folk.
  • Book Exchange & Tea Party. Ask everyone to bring a favorite book that they’ve read and are ready to trade. Each person gives a two-minute presentation about why they loved the book. Names are drawn from a hat and each participant selects his/her new book in the order the names were drawn.
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    OCTOBER TEA PARTY

  • Tea O’ween. Celebrate Halloween for the whole month of October with cinnamon spice tea, pumpkin scones and midnight chocolate double layer cake. Try Constant Comment, the original American spiced tea recipe invented by Ruth Bigelow (available in supermarkets and from BigelowTea.com). Decorate your midnight chocolate cake with candy corn or other favorite Halloween candy; or serve midnight chocolate cupcakes and provide different Halloween candies so guests can decorate their own.
  • Harvest Tea. Serve fall harvest foods for tea: pumpkin muffins, apple pie, nut tarts, cookies or nutted cream cheese sandwiches on zucchini bread.
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    Bonus: Provide oranges, pomanders and optional ribbon, and let guests make their own party favors: pomanders!
     
    NOVEMBER TEA PARTY

  • Pumpkin Tea. Start Thanksgiving early with a “Pumpkin Tea” consisting of pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin scones. Have a some cranberry scones or muffins for those who don’t like pumpkin. Serve your favorite black tea, or try the Pumpkin Spice Tea from Bigelow Tea, Zhena Gypsy Tea (organic, Fair Trade and KSA kosher) or Dragonwater.com (rooibos).
  • Thankful To A Tea. No matter how busy we are, we all can lend a hand, and we all could use one. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, host a “Wish List Tea.” All the participants submit in advance one reasonable request they hope someone else in the group can fulfill. It can be a night of babysitting, a bicycle, the loan or donation of a black cocktail dress or size 9 red pumps, someone to explain home equity loans, etc.
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    DECEMBER TEA PARTY

  • Tea & A Christmas Tree. ‘Tis the season to enjoy cinnamon spice tea with your favorite holiday goodies. Invite friends over to enjoy your tree, or decorate with a couple of non-denominational poinsettia plants. ‘Tis also the season to call people you haven’t been in touch with in a while, and mix new friends with old.
  • Chari-Tea. Help your favorite local cause. Ask friends to bring something to donate—“like new” clothes that they no longer wear, some canned goods, toys and books for the hospital waiting room—whatever your cause can use (call them and ask).
  • Boston Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773. This and a second “tea party” on March 7, 1774 were a prelude to the Revolutionary War. In honor of American Independence Day, you can hold a commemorative “Boston Tea Party” with the kind actually destroyed on that day. It was Britain’s oldest tea merchant, Davison, Newman & Co., whose tea chests were dumped at the first event. Still in business, the company sells Boston Harbour Tea (certified kosher), a blend of Ceylon and Darjeeling teas. Or, simply dump loose leaf tea “overboard” into a tea pot as you read the story of the Boston Tea Party. Serve colonial cookie favorites: benne cakes (sesame cookies), coconut macaroons, gingersnaps, jumbles, molasses cookies and sugar cookies.
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    WHAT TO SERVE AT TEA PARTY

    Perhaps the most fun of planning a tea party is deciding on the goodies. Just search online for “tea party recipes” and you’ll find enough for a lifetime of teas. The basic categories:

  • Cake. Here’s your opportunity to serve special things that most people don’t have often enough. They can be simple, from sponge cake to layer cake to bite-size madeleines and individual cheesecakes. Should you serve your “Death By Chocolate” cake or rich chocolate brownies? It’s a personal choice. We prefer to keep tea on the light-to-medium side, since, after all, dinner is in a few hours.
  • Tarts or tartlets. Fruit tarts and lemon tarts rule! You can make them quickly with tart shells and fruit curd. Tortes Almond, chocolate and linzer tortes are popular and less rich than layer cakes.
  • Cookies. Tea is a wonderful reason to get out your favorite cookie recipes: butter cookies, gingerbread or gingersnaps, linzer cookies, shortbread—the sky’s the limit.
  • Scones.
  • With curd or jam and clotted cream, they’re a classic favorite. It’s easy to bake your own moist scones with gourmet mixes from King Arthur Flour or other quality producer. They also sell gluten-free mixes.

  • Tea Sandwiches. These can be as simple or elaborate as you like. In the top photo, the sandwiches are simply ham and radishes, with spreads. The key to tea sandwiches is smaller size and fanciful cuts. Triangles and finger sandwiches are easiest, but get out your cookie cutters and go to town.
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    Healthier Tea Party Foods

  • Lower-Sugar, Unfrosted Cakes. Angel cake, Bundt cake, carrot cake, sponge cake and zucchini bread, among others, have fewer calories than frosted cakes. They also can be with a heart-healthy oil instead of butter. butter—and no frosting. You can serve them with fruit purée (sweeten with a dab of agave) and/or Reddi-Wip, which has so much air that it has just 15 calories.
  • Pavlovas. These meringue cups (egg whites and sugar only, lots of air, no fat) filled with fresh fruit or brandies fruit. If it’s winter and the fruit selection isn’t great, citrus salad with mint is delicious!
  • “Slender” Tea Sandwiches. On Whole Grain Bread Slice bread ultra-thin and serve with healthy spreads: hummus, tuna and olive tapenade, turkey with marinated cucumbers and curried yogurt spread instead of mayonnaise.
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    Sandwich Cake

    Sandwich Cake Slice

    [4] This beautiful sandwich cake yields a wedge [5] of savory sandwich. Here’s how to make it from AmusesBouche.fr.

  • Fruit With Diet Yogurt Dip. Cut up fruit and serve with a dip made of fat-free yogurt, no-cal sweetener and cinnamon. If you don’t want to use a noncaloric sweetener, use agave syrup. The glycemic index is 21 compared to sugar (65) honey (56) and maple syrup (58). Baked Apples Bake apples with a bit of agave syrup—it’s very sweet, so a little goes a long way. Cinnamon and nutmeg provide wonderful seasoning.
  • Crudités. Low-calorie and fiber packed, serve a platter of raw or blanched vegetables with a yogurt-herb dip.
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    TEA PARTY ETIQUETTE

    Etiquette expert Arden Clise erases common ideas of “proper” tea behavior. She says:

    “People often think proper tea drinking means sticking your pinky out. That’s actually rude and connotes elitism. It comes from the fact that cultured people would eat their tea goodies with three fingers and commoners would hold the treats with all five fingers. Thus was born the misguided belief that one should raise their pinky finger to show they were cultured. Tuck that pinky finger in.”

    Find more of her comments at CliseEtiquette.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Plan An Afternoon Tea Party, Part 1

    Tiered Tea Stand

    Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford

    [1] You don’t need a tiered stand, but you can find inexpensive ones. —This one is less than $20 (photo Chef Buddy | Amazon).[2] Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, inadvertently invented the custom of afternoon tea in 1840 (photo courtesy Woburn Abbey).

     

    THE HISTORY OF AFTERNOON TEA

    In the U.K., afternoon tea is a longstanding tradition: a light meal in mid-afternoon, between lunch and dinner. It can be simple or elaborate, consisting of a pot of tea plus finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, cakes and pastries.

    September 3rd is the birthday of Anna Maria Russell (1783 – 1857), the seventh Duchess of Bedford. In 1840 she inadvertently created the British custom of afternoon tea, a midday meal.

    As their main meal of the day shifted from midday (luncheon) to evening, English high society didn’t dine until 8 p.m. The hungry duchess needed something to tide her over during the stretch between lunch and dinner.

    She ordered tea with small sandwiches to be brought to her room. Over time, her friends joined her, and “afternoon tea” expanded from her circle to all of society.

    It was an elaborate social and gustatory affair with sweet and savory delicacies, special tea cakes and even tea gowns to bridge the fashion gap between casual afternoon and formal evening dress. As the custom spread downstream, tea rooms and tea gardens opened to serve tea to all classes (no change of clothing required).

    Be the Anna of your circle: Plan afternoon teas as regular get-togethers, quarterly or more often. People can take turns hosting; and it can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

    While today’s ladies are more likely to work, consider afternoon tea instead of Sunday brunch. Feel free to invite the gentlemen.
     
    AFTERNOON TEA VS. HIGH TEA

    Afternoon tea is not the same as “high tea.”

  • High tea is a hearty working class supper traditionally served in the late afternoon or early evening (in modern times generally around 6 p.m.). It is the main meal for the farming and working classes in Britain, a world away from the fashionable afternoon teas enjoyed by the upper classes.
  • The name may sound elegant to Americans, but this is not an upscale repast. It comprises a main dish (generally roast beef or leg of lamb), bread and butter, a pudding (pastry or custard) and tea. It is sometimes called meat tea.
  • In a seemingly ironic reversal of terms, the afternoon tea of society is sometimes called “low tea,” after the late afternoon feeling of low energy.
  •  
    Can You Serve Alcohol With Afternoon Tea?

    While it is not part of the tradition, you can add a modern “pre-cocktail” touch. Go for light and/or fruity:

  • Liqueur
  • Pimm’s Cup
  • Sangria (red, white, rosé)
  • Sherry: dry or cream sherry
  • Sparkling wine
  •  

    A YEAR OF TEA PARTY IDEAS: PART 1, JANUARY TO JULY

    JANUARY TEA PARTY

  • Tea & A Spree. Take advantage of post-holiday sales with a pre- or post-shopping tea party that’s rejuvenating and relaxing. Green tea whole wheat finger sandwiches will help to keep those New Year’s resolutions. A plate of crudités with yogurt dip also helps.
  • New Year’s Resolution Tea. Who doesn’t resolve to lose weight in the new year? Have a “spa tea”: different kinds of green tea and healthy munchies.
  •  
    FEBRUARY TEA PARTY

  • Tea & Bent Knee. Propose over a luxurious tea service, featuring imported Earl Gray tea, Champagne, fresh strawberries and cream and luxurious chocolate cake. If your town has a venue that serves afternoon tea, check it out and reserve a cozy table.
  • Valentine Potluck Tea. If there’s no proposal at hand, you still deserve a celebration. Have everyone bring their favorite Valentine treat. You supply different teas, from flavored teas like hazelnut and vanilla to elegant Earl Grey and smoky Lapsang Souchong. Everyone can vote on their favorite tea-and-treat pairings.
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    MARCH TEA PARTY

  • Tea & A Shillelagh. Pronounced shuh-LAY-lee, a shillelagh is a walking cane also used as a cudgel or “fighting stick.” It’s named after Shillelagh Forest in County Wicklow, Ireland, from whence the wood originally came. But there’s no fighting here: After a pot of Irish tea, shortbread and scones, go for a lovely stroll, with or without your walking stick.
  • Tea & The Rites Of Spring. Celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring (March 21st) with pastel frostings on the cakes and cookies, optional iced tea, fresh tulips and daffodils. If people ask what they can bring, say “tulips” and be prepared to have a room full of them—very springlike! Think of happy spring music, too: Chopin’s works for pianoforte say “spring” to us.
  •  

    APRIL TEA PARTY

  • Tea & A Tree. Help celebrate Earth Month with green tea, vegan cookies and fresh organic fruit.
  • Tea With A Bunny. Host an Easter Tea with plain, frosted cupcakes and the fixings to decorate them (jelly beans, easter candies, traditional cupcake decorations). Everyone gets to decorate cupcakes and the group can vote for winners in different categories (prettiest, most creative, most festive, etc). Send the winners home with small tea gifts.
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    MAY TEA PARTY

  • Tea & A She. May honors all of the important mothers in our lives. Even if you’ll be with your own family for Mother’s Day, call up other moms and invite them for tea. Enjoy Lady Gray tea, pecan scones and raspberry velvet cheesecake.
  • Women’s Health Week. It’s the second week in May. Companies like Republic Of Tea sell special “teas for the cure,” with profits going to cancer research. Serve high-antioxidant foods like berries and dark chocolate with tea sandwiches on whole-grain breads.
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    JUNE TEA PARTY

  • Fits To A Tea. With bathing suit season at hand, we’re all watching calories. Enjoy chai tea with fresh fruit salad. The spiciness of the chai requires no milk or sugar.
  • Fruit Tea Party. Serve fruit teas (hot and iced), fresh fruit salad and fruit tarts.
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    JULY TEA PARTY

  • Boston Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773. This and a second “tea party” on March 7, 1774 were a prelude to the Revolutionary War. In honor of American Independence Day, you can hold a commemorative “Boston Tea Party” with the kind actually destroyed on that day. It was Britain’s oldest tea merchant, Davison, Newman & Co., whose tea chests were destroyed at the 1773 “tea party.” The company sells a Boston Harbour Tea (certified kosher), a blend of Ceylon and Darjeeling teas. Serve it with all-American favorites such as brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
  • Loose Leaf Tea Party. Commemorate the Boston Tea Party by dumping loose leaf tea “overboard” into a tea pot as you read the story of the Boston Tea Party. Serve colonial cookie favorites: benne cakes (sesame cookies), coconut macaroons, gingersnaps, jumbles, molasses cookies and sugar cookies.
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    We placed the Boston Tea Party teas in July because of Independence Day; but you can as easily have them in December or March.
     
     

     

    Tea Sandwiches

    Makeshift Tiered Stand

    [2] Yesteryear: Tea sandwiches were cut into fingers or triangles. Today: Add some pinwheels (photo courtesy Libelle.nl). [4] There’s no need to buy a tiered stand. This one was put together with regular plates balanced on tea cups. Clever! (photo courtesy Sketch.uk.com.

     
     
    NEXT: PART 2, AUGUST TO DECEMBER

      

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