History of Tea Party

Madhulika Dash

Though hard to believe today, but the birth of high tea wasn’t as a fancy arrangement to pamper the royal palate (that was Afternoon tea) but as a little ritual that would keep the homecoming workers satiated till dinner.

Most good things they say comes out of necessity. And the two finest examples of this are the Afternoon Tea and the High Tea. While the former was to keep the boredom and abate a certain “sinking feeling” between Breakfast and Dinner (the two forms of meals that were had during the time) and was a tradition introduced by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford in the early 1800s, the latter was a more functional arrangement that happened around the Industrial Revolution to feed hungry workmen heading home.

Fascinatingly, the difference between Afternoon tea and High tea wasn’t just the back story; it was also how they were formatted. Like the Afternoon tea, which many believe was a more evolved form of the casket of tea introduced by Charles II in 1662, and was served at around sharp three in the afternoon with all the royal frills and delicateness to be had sitting on a low seat or sofa; the commoner’s High Tea, which got its name from the high tables it was served on, was served at six in the evening and was more hearty in terms of food. Imagine a jug-full of freshly brewed tea along with the best of what the home could afford – pies and cold meats, tarts and salads, jam, honey, pastry, bread, toasted tea cakes and hearty fruitcakes.  Slightly well-to-do would have homemade bread, newly churned butter, and a feast of fresh and simple food.  Just for the array of meat dishes and breads present in High tea, it was often referred to the Meat Tea as well. 

tea-party

Unlike the Afternoon tea that eventually evolved into garden parties and later into kitty parties, High Tea became a more popular way to socialize. One of the reasons behind the rise of High Tea was women were banned from entering the coffee houses, which back in the 18th century was the only place that people could meet, informally, without the hassle of a big meal or the decorum of getting dressed.

Such was the popularity of the High Tea that when the Crown took over India, the officers here picked Afternoon Tea for their mid-day hunger while the High Tea with all its gourmet deliciousness was elevated for special, semi-formal occasions. It was this colonial tradition that spread to the rest of the world. This along with the hotels, who introduced tea rooms and even hosted tea dances in the afternoon, transformed the peasant-style mid-evening tea break into a social event.

Thus, was born High Tea, the perfect wedding of good food and interesting tea. Food-lore has it that it was with the High Tea that the rich and fragrant Assam tea earned popularity. In fact, many tea sommeliers believe that most of the tea variations were designed for High Tea, which were perfect platforms to test newer combinations as well. It is said that varieties like Earl Grey, Orange Oolong were made especially for these tea rituals.

scones

Meal on the Tea

What began as a simple table laden with food that was washed with a cup of warm, balmy tea has now transformed into a gastronomical celebrations with the variation of tea and coffee playing as significant a role as the food itself – which is today is designed as per the theme and borrows generously from the Victorian-era Afternoon Tea.

So along with the tarts and pastries, one would also find cookies, scones and slices of artisanal bread ready to be slathered with a variety of jams, marmalades and hand-whipped butter. In fact, every country today has added their “own-ness” to the ceremony. An excellent example of this is the High Tea concept at Sea Lounge.

Making of the perfect High tea

The highlight of High Tea today is its opulence – not only in terms of the table décor, the tea set in which it is served, the collection of tea and other beverage but also the place it is hosted in. A good high tea venue today is one that marries the colonial charm with a hint of formality, which is readily seen in the premium lounges inside hotels today.

Next is the service. Gone are the days when high tea meant a casual sit down on the table, a quick prayer and getting down to the business of satiating while reiterating the  day at work with those lending an ear; today it is all about the finesse, which begins with an informal table layout, which would comprise of a beautifully designed and laid out cake stand, small, cute jars of marmalade, jams and other dips, stunning looking cutleries and neatly folded napkins and of course the quintessential tall flower arrangement.

Since there are no courses for High Tea (the other informal thing except for the easy conversation), a good suggestion is to have more bite-sized food and leave a wide segment to DIY treats like Charles II favourite Casket of Bread. This moves the table better and gives it an illusion of never being empty.

While High Teas today are no more restricted to tea only (premium quality coffee are part of the ritual as well), a good idea is to have a collection of premium tea like Silvertip, green and white tea, Oolong specially the fruit variations, black tea and a few fusion tea that are more a play of the flavours added to the tea than the tea itself. And while tea bags are an easy choice, if the audience is limited then having loose tea, especially Silvertip and Darjeeling first flush ups the ante.

And lastly, keep a proactive service that ensures all cups are full, plate look scrumptious and palates, satiated.

 

Looking to host your very own high tea? Check out our Party Chef menu or call our store to be the perfect host.