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Over the past one hundred and fifty plus years, Afternoon tea has taken on many different incarnations. While the original traditions of the day, were born of the rules of a regimented English aristocracy, the evolving popularity of the afternoon tea genre has allowed for people of all backgrounds to partake in the rituals of tea, in one form or another.
The foundations for each tea ritual may be updated and adapted to fit the needs of a modern hostess.

As to not be redundant, each menu below includes the service of hot, loose leaf decanted tea, unless otherwise noted.

AFTERNOON TEA or LOW TEA: A traditional afternoon tea is served between 3 PM and 5 PM at a low table. The menu consists of three courses-assorted crustless finger sandwiches and savories, scones with Devonshire (clotted) cream and preserves and assorted finger sweets and petit fours. It is not uncommon for a trifle or dessert to added as a fourth course.

INFORMAL AFTERNOON TEA: Served in a salon or outdoor setting, with either placement seating or casual seating at low tables. Candles are never used.

FORMAL TEA/RECEPTION TEA: Service is set buffet style, on white linens, in the dining room. All foods must be easy to consume without utensils. Guests are not formally seated, but,encourraged to mingle throughout reception rooms while standing. Candles may be used after 5 PM, with the curtains drawn.

ROYAL TEA: The same as an Afternoon tea with the addition of a glass of Champagne or Sherry.

LIGHT TEA: The same as an Afternoon tea, however one would exclude the assorted sandwiches and savories.

CREAM TEA: Known to the southern parts of England as a light repast or to us Americans as a snack, served in the mid afternoon consisting only of scones, Devonshire cream and preserves.

STRAWBERRY TEA: Traditionally served during the spring and summer, either in the early morning or mid afternoon. Fresh strawberries, whole or sliced, with Devonshire cream and castor sugar (granulated, brown or confectionery).

HIGH TEA: A high tea is served in the late afternoon or early evening (5 PM to 7 PM) taking the place of dinner. Served at a “high” table with seated place settings. The foods are heartier and consist of salads, one or two hot dishes, pot pies, cold chicken, sliced meats, cakes, fruit tarts, custards and fresh fruits. The tea may be served hot or iced. The addition of any supper dish would be appropriate.

PLOUGHMANÂ’S LUNCH or FARMERÂ’S TEA: Originating in the pubs of England during the Industrial Revolution, a working class lunch, served between noon and 2 PM. The menu including meat pies, assorted cheeses and fruits on crusty breads is similar to that of a high tea.

NURSERY TEA: It was customary during the Edwardian era for the upper-middle classes to hire NannyÂ’s to raise their children. Parents did not share in the daily routines of their children's upbringing. One of the rare times of day that children did interact with their parents was in the mid afternoon, in the nursery. Nursery teas were not elaborate, but, menus of simple sandwiches with the crusts on, boiled eggs on sliced toast, bread with jam and on special occasions puddings, jam tarts and sweet buns. Tea was, in fact, not served. Milk was the chosen beverage for the children with the occasional lemonade.

TE DANSANT or TEA DANCES: As the La Bell Époque was coming to an end in 1914 , prior to World War l, women of leisure and men of prominence would converge between 5 PM and 6:30 PM in one of the Grand Hotels for tea and dancing. The fashions were as elaborate as the music was inspiring; from Ragtime and the Tango to the Charleston, on introduction, each new dance became all the rage. Special china of white porcelain with a gold border was created to celebrate the popularity of the Tango teas. In 1939, with the advent of World War ll, as the men went off to war and the women went to work the tea dance fell by the wayside.

SPORTING TEAS: Following a hunt, a game of tennis, a croquet match or a day on the water, due to the outdoor aspect of these teas, iced tea was the usual preferred choice, but not mandatory. The menu would be similar to picnic foods if served in a casual setting, but, may also be elaborate if one is so inclined to serve in a more formal manner.

BRIDGE TEAS: Card games have always been a catalyst for entertaining. Custom dictated that the bridge games began at 1 PM with tea following at 3 PM. Whether one serves a casual or elaborate tea will be at the discretion of the hostess.

AFTERNOON TEA STYLE LUNCHEON: Tea time has come full circle to combine the best of all worlds. Working women no longer have to forsake afternoon tea due to time constraints, for many establishments have wisely chosen to include afternoon tea menus during the luncheon hours of noon to 2:30 PM.

Wishing You Happy TEA TRAVELS(TM) ! Ellen Easton

More of Ellen's Articles:

Planning a Tea Menu

FAQ About Afternoon Tea

A Spring Tea Menu

Tea and Silver

Tea at the Holidays

Understanding Tea Time Service

The Afternoon Tea Gown

The History of Chocolate

A Summer Rose Tea

Etiquette Faux Pas


About The Author

Ellen Easton, author of TEA TRAVELS(TM), TEA PARTIES and Good $ense For $uccess(TM) published by RED WAGON PRESS, 45 East 89th Street, Suite 20A, NYC, NY 10128-1256: (212) 722-7981, is a consultant and designer of related products, to the hotel, food service, special event and retail industries. She is also available for speaking engagements. Please contact her for more information.

Ellen Easton, the author, does not endorse any outside advertisements that may appear on this site.

No copyrighted materials may be reproduced in any other format, now known or unknown, without prior written permission by Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS. All copyrights and trademarks remain the sole property of Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS with all rights reserved. (212) 722-7981


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