Monday, May 30, 2011

Tea Week: Afternoon Tea

Happy Memorial Day and welcome to Tea Week, a completely original celebration honoring the ancient (and fabulous) beverage produced by steeping dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant in very hot water to produce a flavorful liquor with great medicinal properties. Phew, that's a mouthful. Well, anyone who knows me at all know that I really love tea! I love hot tea, iced tea, foods flavored with tea, the experience of enjoying tea with all the fixings... if it's tea-related, you know I'm there. During my 2+ years blogging, I've found many other bloggers and readers who love tea as much as I do. Please consider this "holiday" a gift from me to you :) If you are a new subscriber to Mission: Food, you probably missed all the valuable information I shared during last year's event. I recently created a page for the blog completely devoted to all the tea-inspired posts I've shared on here... an organized and easy to access plethora of tea love. You can find it here or posted at the top of the page under "Tea's Me." At the very least, if you love tea and are interested in learning more about its history, health benefits, trends, brewing techniques, and various types of tea leaves (and so much more!) I suggest you read my posts from Tea Week 2010. Here they are for your convenience:

Did You Know?
A discussion of tea's history, health benefits, and trends

A Myriad of Flavors
A look at the different types of tea leaves, including some of my favorite teas

Brewing Tea is an Art
Tips on brewing the perfect cup of tea!

A Perfect Marriage
Pairing teas with foods

Obviously, I'm not going to completely reiterate the same information every single year, which is why I really suggest you go back and read these older posts. This year for Tea Week, I'm focusing my energy on discussing the very familiar and popular afternoon tea or high tea. First of all, while these terms are often used interchangeably, there is actually a difference between them, at least historically. Afternoon tea is the true term for what people picture when they imagine tiers of sweets and small crustless sandwiches. It is served between a light lunch and dinner (usually between 3 and 5 pm), and is more elegant in nature. High tea is typically a middle and lower class creation, with more substantial food offerings. It is sometimes called "meat tea" and includes things like sausages, meat pies, roast beef, etc. Traditionally, it was the main meal of the day for many working class folks. Today, these two different "teas" have merged in many tea rooms which now extend their afternoon tea service into high tea and offer other food options that are meant to be more filling.

I recently hosted an afternoon tea, and decided to focus this year's Tea Week on that experience. The courses for afternoon tea in most tea rooms go as follows: scones, tea sandwiches, sweets. It may seem unusual to serve a sweet scone before eating savory sandwiches, but this is how I've seen it done pretty much everywhere. For the next 3 days, I will share photos and recipes (as well as my first cooking video!) from my tea party. I hope you will tune in for more of the details! For now I will simply share the menu (it was fairly uncomplicated, as I had very little time to prepare beforehand, and there were only 5 of us dining) as well as some photographs of the table setting. I can't tell you enough how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE my tea set! It has been discontinued for some time, so unfortunately I don't think any of you can purchase it, but it's by a wonderful designer called Rosanna and this particular line is entitled "Tea's Me."

Photo courtesy Stash Tea

Afternoon Tea Menu

*First Course* 
Tipsy Cherry Scones

*Second Course*
Curried Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

*Third Course*
Earl Grey Panna Cottas

Mariage Frères Marco Polo


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