Is that Tea is a wonderful thing!
I'm not just talking about the beverage tea, though heaven knows we drink gallonsful of sweet iced tea down here in NC. We are practically the iced tea capitol of the world! And I certainly do love a properly brewed cup of hot tea-- from high-quality loose tea leaves. More about that in a moment. I'm really talking about Tea, as in Afternoon Tea, the small meal that the British (and others) have between lunch and dinner, around 4ish or 5ish.
"Tea" can be a confusing thing, as there are so many different practices in the world, from "tea breaks" which are the equivalent to our "coffee breaks" to High Teas to Cream or Devonshire teas. In some locales, the evening meal itself is known as tea, as the main meal is eaten in the middle of the day. I did used to chuckle when my friend Charley would mention the "Turkey Teas" held as fundraisers by area churches in his small Newfoundland town. (Much like the Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers some of you may be familiar with.)
High tea vs. afternoon tea. What's the difference? According to one source, afternoon tea, in which tea is served around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, with dainty foods and pastries, was also known as low tea, as it was taken in parlors and afternoon rooms with low tables. This is contrary to practices in the U.S. where tea rooms call tea served with scones and "the works" "high tea." High tea refers to tea served as an informal evening meal, usually later than afternoon tea, at a regular dining, or high, table. High tea served as the evening meal for the common classes.
The fancy, shmancy 'high tea" served in tea rooms and elegant hotels would probably more accurately be called a "cream tea." A cream tea or Devonshire tea generally includes, besides tea, scones, clotted or Devonshire cream, and traditionally, strawberry jam.
Why do I love tea?? At what other meal can you consume petit fours, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and various and sundry pastries without feeling a single pang of conscience?
I think tea is a wonderful custom that should be more widely practiced, especially in our hectic lives here in the U.S. There is hardly anything cozier and more relaxing than sitting down to tea with DC when he gets home. I'm not talking about anything elaborate-- I just brew a pot of tea and get out some Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies, and instant comfort and tranquility!
There is something about a hot cup of tea and a cookie or two that is just so relaxing after a hectic day! When my son was a toddler, we called the period of time from 5-7 p.m., when everyone is tired, hungry and cranky, "The Poison Hour." Tea could be the answer to the Poison Hour! Tea was originally served because people would get hungry during the long hours between the mid-day meal and dinner, traditionally served at 8 p.m. or later. Since hunger, low blood sugar, and exhaustion are great contributors to making the late afternoon hectic and unpleasant, a break for a beverage and a snack, call it what you will, makes sense. I recall only too well those days of frantically trying to whip up dinner with a screaming toddler wrapped around one leg.
Break out some hot vanilla milk or what my friend Charlotte calls "Cambric Tea" (milk and sugar with just a tad of tea in it) for the kids, and some nutritious snack food. You and your Darlin' Companion can have the stimulating beverage of your choice, tea, coffee, etc. along with a few delectable nibbles. Not only is it fun and relaxing, it takes the edge off everyone's hunger. This lets you prepare the evening meal in peace, without everyone around you going mad from hunger.
In fact, if you have little ones, it's a great idea once a week or so to feed them their dinner at tea time, so you and your Darlin' Companion can enjoy a romantic, adults-only dinner after the children are in bed. Hey, cheap date-- and no babysitter needed!
Besides the obvious cookies, cinnamon toast, etc., there are lots of simple things you can enjoy at tea time. Hooray for the whole idea of "tea cakes." Tea cakes are by nature simple, uncomplicated treats that are nonetheless delicious. Things like banana bread, pound cake, and muffins. To my mind, any kind of simple cake that tastes good all on its own is a great candidate for a "tea cake." Pound cakes and muffins freeze well in indivudal portions, allowing you to have a homemade treat ready in a flash. You may not want to serve tea cakes every day, but it is nice knowing you have something on hand for the odd unexpected visitor, or when someone needs cheering up.
Here are some ideas for your "tea break."
Stefan's Favorite Hot Vanilla Milk
Pour whatever kind of milk your child drinks into a small mug. Add a teaspoon or two of honey, a couple sprinkles of cinnamon, and a little vanilla. Heat in the microwave until warmed through. Be sure to stir thoroughly to get rid of any hot spots and get the honey mixed in!
Making a real pot of tea
Buy the best tea leaves you can. The ones I am using here are Mei Lan Chun, a very nice, smooth Chinese green tea. I'm lucky to have one of the world's best tea shops in my area (A Southern Season), so I know the tea is properly stored and fresh when I buy it. Unfortunately, A Southern Season doesn't sell their good teas online. Teavana does, however.
There are many kinds of great teas to try: black teas, like Darjeeling; oolongs (my favorite is Ti Kwan Yin, which means Iron Goddess of Mercy); green teas (Mei Lan Chun is my current favorite); white teas (White Peony is the one I drink most often) and flavored teas, like Earl Grey, which is flavored with bergamot orange oil. Not to mention the many herbal blends on the market. I feel tea bags are fine for herbal teas.
A teapot with an infuser is a must.
That allows you to remove the tea leaves once they have steeped for the proper amount of time. It also lets you re-use the tea leaves! Most tea leaves can be brewed 2 or 3 times before they lose their flavor. I store my infuser with tea leaves in it in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Fill the infuser with leaves and set it aside. The general rule is 1 tsp. of tea per person and 1 tsp. for the pot. If you have "pearled" tea (little balls), you only need 4 or 5 little pearls per pot.
You need to warm your teapot first by filling it with hot water. My tea kettle holds enough boiling water to fill my teapot twice, so I fill it once to warm it, then pour that out.
Then put the infuser with the tea leaves in it and pour in fresh boiling water.
There are actually different temperatures you are supposed to brew the different kinds of tea at, but I just use boiling water for everything. Steep the tea (use a timer) for 3-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea, then remove the infuser promptly.
You can see how much the leaves expand in the hot water!
Your tea is ready to serve!
Here's a wonderful recipe for muffins that you can enjoy with your tea. This recipe make 7 regular size muffins for me. I think these would be especially tasty as miniature muffins and I will use my mini-muffin tin next time.
This recipe is from Bunny's Warm Oven.