A Perfect Tea

 

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Have you heard the buzz? The Downton Abbey MOVIE is going to be released in theaters in one month, on September 20th! I’m excited, and already planning to see it with a group of girlfriends. In the meantime, one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Downton Abbey is all things..tea! Dust off that china, Farmgirls, and let’s talk tea!

 

 “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”  

– Henry James

My best friend and I always make a buzz about each other’s birthdays. For her last birthday, I took Andrea to “high tea” at a local tea room, and then for my last birthday, she took me to “high tea” at a different local tea room. We had such a blast at both adorable places, that we decided to visit a few other tea rooms in the tri-state area. (The only one we found a bit disappointing was a little place that was not really an actual tea room, but more of a casual cafe serving a variety of teas).

At “TeacWith Tracey”

At “Tea With Tracy”

At “Tea Roses”

At “Tea Roses”

A true tea room knows the art of presenting “high tea”. Our two favorite tea rooms in Connecticut are Tea wth Tracy in Seymour, CT, surrounded by fun little antique shops, and Tea Roses Tea Room in Cromwell, CT (whose organic, exclusive house blend tea is to die for). It’s great fun to dress up, pick a wonderful spread of tea sandwiches, scones and petits-fours- all piled high on a three-tiered tray, and share a perfect pot of tea.

The Downton Abbey touring exhibit was a great treat when it was in my neck of the woods, NYC March, 2018

The Downton Abbey touring exhibit was a great treat when it was in my neck of the woods, NYC March, 2018

From a spot of tea to break on a busy afternoon, or a hot cup of tea to warm up a cold day, tea is soul-soothing. On the series Downton Abbey, whether it was the great Dowager herself or the maids and butlers, a good cup of tea was served often, during a casual conversation or to steady whatever drama was rocking the day.

Teapots and other serving pieces at the ready “downstairs “ at thDownton Abbey. If the traveling exhibit comes your way, it’s a must -see

Teapots and other serving pieces at the ready “downstairs “ at Downton Abbey. If the traveling exhibit comes your way, it’s a must-see!

My friend Andrea and I decided we would have “high tea” at home as a summer treat, along with our friend Julie.

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Julie has the most beautiful English accent, but she was born in Virginia. Her father was an officer in the Royal British Navy, and her parents were stationed in Virginia at the time of her birth. The family eventually returned home to England. Years later Julie attended college in the US. She decided to visit her parents’ American Naval friends, (who are also Julie’s Godparents). During the visit, Julie also met their middle son, whom she hadn’t seen since they were children. Together twenty-five years and married thirteen, the couple have pictures of themselves side by side as infants. How romantic!

Ready for our “Ladies High Tea”

Ready for our “Ladies High Tea”

We each decided what we would bring for our afternoon tea party. Andrea provided a selection of delicious teas, and set the table beautifully with a floral tablecloth, and china once belonging to her husband’s mother in New Zealand.

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Andrea made two kinds of cucumber tea sandwiches, I made egg salad tea sandwiches, and Julie baked delectable English currant scones from a recipe in the Dairy Book of Home Cookery, first published in 1968.

 

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Since tea is such a major part of life in England, we asked Julie what differences exist between the art of having tea in the two continents.

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“Kids in England grow up on tea in a sippy cup,” says Julie, adding that “the perfect pot of tea tastes better when made properly. Water has to be a rolling boil, not from a microwave.” Teaspoons in the USA are twice the English size. There should be one English-sized teaspoon of loose tea to one cup of water. Tea should steep three to five minutes, depending on the cut of the leaves.

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Rougher cut leaves take longer to steep than smaller cut tea leaves. In England, tea is predominantly black, as opposed to the countless varieties of tea in America. Sometimes, one can find green tea on the shelves, but Julie says the choices are still narrower than in the States.

In England, most tea is now found in all-compostable tea bags, but the bags are meant for a whole pot, not just a single cup or mug.

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Andrea served our tea in her antique Brown Betty teapot – once known as the “poor man’s tea pot” in the UK, because in the past fine China was once only for the wealthy. An English household staple, Brown Betty teapots aren’t particularly fancy. They are usually dark brown and made of heavy clay. The color meant that tea stains wouldn’t show, and the shape of the top allowed for several pots to be stacked on top of each other. Several different companies have been manufacturing them since the 1800’s, and Queen Victoria herself had one. True Brown Betty connoisseurs don’t wash their pots- they just rinse them, allowing the clay to become “seasoned”.

Two Brown Betty teapots

Two Brown Betty teapots

Julie also says there are differences in the food served with tea. In American tea rooms, tea sandwiches, served without crusts, are bigger. In England they are more delicate. Cucumbers, cheese, white bread and butter was the “poor man’s selection”, as they were less expensive and readily available to feed a family with, as opposed to the more “posh” meat-filled sandwiches.

Scones are also less sweet and smaller in the UK. Many typical American scones are cake-like, less crumbly and very sweet.

In England, tea with biscuits, or “digestives,” is a common snack. Similar to a graham cracker but not as sweet, digestives are meant to dunk in your tea. “Rich tea” refers to very pale white biscuits.

Two good books on the classic art of all things tea are Taking Tea by Andrea Israel and The National Trust Book of Afternoon Tea by Laura Mason.

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A grown-up tea party is an easy and lovely way to enjoy time with your friends. The presentation makes a pot of tea “fancy”, but it’s the friends you share it with that make it extra-special.

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 42 Comments

  1. Mary Rauch says:

    Probably 10 years ago I convinced our ladies at the church “we” should have a tea party done in style. A lady who does this for a living directed us through the preparation and serving and another lady came and talked with us telling the history of the high tea and its place in society. It was a BIG success and some of them still tell of it. We all learned a lot also. It was a bit of trouble coming up with all the lace tablecloths.
    Thanks for prompting the great memories.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mary, what a great idea you had, and it sounds like you all had a grand time! I would have enjoyed the event! I am so happy you enjoyed the blog; thank you for reading and commenting. FARMGIRL Hugs, Nicole

  2. Mary Pitman says:

    My granddaughter who is now 7 1/2 loves to ‘have a tea party’ when they stay with nana in the winter. She loves dunking her cookie in the tea, too. Such sweet memories.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mary, How sweet! So true…what wonderful memories you are making with your granddaughter! When my daughter was little, we had “tea parties” also, often with dolls and the family dog, too! I miss those sweet days, but we still have tea together. In the cold weather, we have tea together when she gets home from school, to catch up and slow down. Last Mother’s Day, Audrey got me the matching tea pot to my favorite dish set from the 60’s. It’s so special to me. Enjoy every minute with your sweet grand girl, and thank you for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Sharon Wegmeyer says:

    Loved this article! Once moved into our new farmhouse, I thought inviting gals over for “”Tea at 2 on Tuesday” might be fun!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Sharon, congrats on your farmhouse! What a cute idea of “Tea at 2 on Tuesday”! Sounds like such fun…enjoy! Thank you for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Laurel Pries says:

    Great blog! I always look forward to reading your blog and really enjoyed learning the differences between us and the UK and the tea experiences. I am 73 and do enjoy a good cup of tea! Thank you again for such an interesting read!! Laurel

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Laurel, Thank you! I am so glad you enjoy my posts. I love tea so much, as well. I think my favorite will always be “Earl Grey”. Bigelow “Constant Comment” makes me think of my Mama- it’s her favorite I also love Pumpkin Spice (organic, not the artificial kind). Harney and Sons makes great tea, too, and their little tins the tea comes in are so cute and easy to repurpose. A good cup of tea does wonders for the soul, don’t you agree? Thanks again for commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Mary Rauch says:

    Nicole, I always read your blog and enjoy it. I should be a better friend and reply to each one telling you how special it was or what special meaning or memory it gave back to me!…I’ll try to do better, ha ha ha.
    Also, I really appreciate the lovely pictures you share with us! Being an avid photographer myself, I know how much time is spent editing, framing and preparing the pics for your articles….thank you.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Oh Mary, thank you so much for this comment. It means a lot to me. I am so glad you enjoy reading what the blog. I do so enjoy creating each one. I can’t believe it will be nine years this November that I have been writing the Suburban Farmgirl Blog! Each comment from readers means a lot to me. Thanks again! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Theresa Talarek says:

    Thanks for this! I love all things tea! I enjoyed the comparisons between teatimes in England and America. I didn’t know that the teaspoons are smaller in England, so I was always puzzled by the idea of putting one teaspoon per cup in the pot – it sounds like so much, considering our teaspoons here. Thanks also for the book recommendations.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Theresa, Thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the blog. I have a set of little spoons I’ve had for years, and wondered why they were so small. They are English tea spoons! A good way to remember is that an English tea spoon is about the size of half a teaspoon here. Thanks again for reading and commenting. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Carol says:

    Oh how I love an afternoon tea! A morning tea! An evening tea! Oh how I love tea! My grand doll and I have many tea parties!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Carol, I hear ya! I have a sitting room in my house that is white wicker and vintage, with a collection of tea cups and tea pots, sitting on a bead board shelf my dad made me a long time ago. We have always called it “the tea room”. When my daughter was little, we always had “tea parties” there. I always let her drink from a china cup, even when she was little. Enjoy you grand doll! Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Melissa says:

    Love reading about your tea. My mom, aunt, cousin, and myself have been rewatching Downton Abbey in preparation for the movie, we gather once a week, serve a meal, and of course tea and scones or shortbread for dessert. I purchased tea shaped spoon rests for each of the girls to take home and attached was a 1920’s woman’s face stamped on a piece of circular paper with a quote from the series. It’s nice to hear you gave a tea gathering tradition too

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Melissa!Oh how fun! Love all your ideas. I have watched the series more times than I can count (and never get tired of it). I can’t wait for the movie! So exciting! Enjoy! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I love this blog! The pictures are so pretty of the you and your friends, tables, food and tea servings. I love scones because you took me to a tearoom in Connecticutt and they were delicious.
    Love,
    Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thank you, Mama! I just made Audrey and myself a pot of your favorite tea from the bags you sent. We had a cup of tea after a busy day. Love you, Nicole

  10. Julie says:

    LOVED the interesting information and pictures of a high tea. Makes me want to have one…It all looks so elegant and satisfying…
    Thank you for your “tea tidbits”

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thank you, Julie, glad you enjoyed this post. Thanks for “stopping by” the blog! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  11. Donna says:

    A good book about tea is THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE. Not about high tea but more about the origin of tea. Found the book very interesting..

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Donna, Sounds like a great read! I will look for it. Thank. You so much for reading and sharing! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. Karna says:

    What a timely blog!
    I am preparing my mother in law’s celebration of life this Saturday and it is going to be a Tea Party.
    She so enjoyed her daily and nightly tea time and going to Tea Rooms.
    Thank you!!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Dear Karna, I am so sorry to hear of your loss, but what a lovely way to honor your Mother-In-Law! Thank you for reading and sharing. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  13. Eileen says:

    Hi Nicole,
    Thank you for your always interesting blogs and pictures. I can’t wait for your next one!
    You have not experienced “high tea” until you have gone to high tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York City! I took my daughter when she was 16 years old. It was absolutely WONDERFUL! If you are in Connecticut, hopefully some day you’ll go to the Plaza for high tea!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Eileen! OH MY! That sounds like so much fun! We are super close to NYC, so I will put that on my list of things I’d like to do. Thank you for telling me about it; I had no idea! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  14. Marilyn says:

    What a lovely post. I only drink tea. Thank You for explaining the differences between England and the United States concerning tea and the accessories. Do you know that Hoffman publications has a magazine “Tea Time”. It is lovely. Enjoy the “Downton Abbey” movie.
    Marilyn

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Marilyn, So glad you enjoyed this post. I have not heard of that publication, but will look for it! Thanks for sharing! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  15. Diane Loehr says:

    Hi Nicole –
    That is a great day with the ladies in your life. In November my church hosts an Autumn Tea and each table has a different theme. People really go all out and it is a very nice afternoon with friends, sipping tea and just catching up with one another. Thanks for the wonderful story! Diane

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Diane, Your church tea sounds lovely! By the way, when is the Knit In at the FDR museum… do you still go? And will you be at Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool this year? Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

    • Diane Loehr says:

      Hi Nicole –
      The Knit In is always the first Sunday in May. Yes a group of us went and had a great time. I will definitely be at the Wool & Sheep show. I look forward to this event every year. Hope that you will make it this year! Have a great day! Diane

      • Nicole Christensen says:

        Hi Diane! I have to remember that in May, and would love to go next year. I will be at the Wool and Sheep show this year…maybe we can meet for coffee or something there! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  16. Judith says:

    I have very fond memories of cream tea with my English DIL in Boscastle in 1991. I came home with a brown betty and an addiction to McVities, which I can only find now at World Market. Impossible to find Devon cream here but I make a passable substitution with cream cheese and cream.
    Thank you for bringing back good memories.

  17. Rodella Johnston says:

    Do enjoyed reading your blog.
    Rodella Johnston

  18. Rodella Johnston says:

    So enjoyed reading your blog.
    Rodella Johnston

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Rodella, thank you so much! I am so glad you enjoyed this post, and I hope you will visit me again, when the next Suburban Farmgirl Blog comes out, September 24th! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  19. Diane Loehr says:

    Hi Nicole –
    The Knit In is the first Sunday in May. We had another great turnout. You will have to come sometime and bring a friend or two. It is so great to bond with these women and a few of them that I met have now become members of my Prayer Shawl Group. I will definitely be at the Wool and Sheep show in Rhinebeck. I am even taking a class in Needle Felting as I always wanted to learn this craft. Are you going? Hope to see you there. Have a great day! Diane

  20. Pamela says:

    Although I am now a Kansas farmgirl, I lived 35 miles from Boston, and Tea is in my
    genes. Loved your blog, your pictures and sharing such a delightful tradition with
    your friends! Since I had 3 sons and sadly no daughter, I still wanted to share my
    love of tea. So, with my youngest son and his pre-school friends (boy & girl), I hosted
    a Teddy Bear tea with miniature cups. Too precious!
    Since that was successful, years later…I included a tea with homemade scones for
    my Kindergarten Daycare transition class. These are some of the best memories ever.
    Thanks for taking the time to blog and for doing an amazing job!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Pamela, Thank you so much! Love your comment – such sweet memories you shared with us, thank you. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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