The taking of Afternoon Tea is a very civilised and delicious way of enjoying a traditional British custom, often in beautiful surroundings, in the company of special people. It’s about quality time and it’s also a perfect avenue for building rapport with others, be it in a business context or that of pure pleasure. Either way, any relationship is enhanced by the cosy environment, sitting opposite each other, whilst listening, nodding, passing, smiling, nibbling and above all sharing.
Think about it: luncheon or dinner are much more solitary affairs where the food is concerned – after all, what you are served on your plate, stays, well, yours! In contrast, Afternoon Tea is all about sharing, taking morsels by consent (“no, after you!”) and passing the dainty sandwiches or cakes – being careful not to take more than your share and avoiding gulping or wolfing down your food in enormous bites!
This isn’t any old refreshment – this is about restraint! However, it’s also the perfect opportunity to nurture someone else. There aren’t that many opportunities in life to show someone else such care in an elegant setting, but this is one of them. It’s about the passing of tempting delicious scones, sandwiches, cakes or pastries, but also in the holding yourself back whilst attending to the other person’s needs first, such as pouring their tea, passing the jam or milk and so on. It’s intimate and it’s charming. Mobile phones off too! This is to be uninterrupted quality time and devotion to other human beings with your best listening skills at play. This is British tradition at its finest – and it’s very civilised. Live up to the occasion.
The choosing of the tea is a special moment too. Tea bags need not apply for this one. It has to be the real thing: premium loose leaf tea with a world of intricate flavours for your taste buds, not the ‘dust’ (that’s its technical name) in the tea bags. Be kind to the loose leaf leaves too, make the tea with recently boiled (but not boiling) water, so the tea is not ‘bruised’. And there are choices to make too. Are you a lover of black, white, oolong or green tea….do you like Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, or English Breakfast?
Don’t be daunted; most hotel menus or waiters will offer a description of the various flavours and whether to add milk or not. Enjoy trying different varieties and finding out which teas match which foods, just like wine-pairing. Do remember to use the tea strainer as part of the ritual with loose leaf tea though – unless the teapot has an integral strainer inside. Pulling leaves out of our teeth is not a good look!
Afternoon tea isn’t an essential in life in terms of nutrition: it’s an indulgence, a treat – and all the better for it. The ritual makes people smile and feel cosy and spoiled. It makes them feel special. If you are a wooing gentleman, then afternoon tea is for you.
By Jane Malyon of The English Cream Tea Company
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