That most gracious of afternoon activities - the quaint tea party with delicate sandwiches, slices of sugary cake, and a pot of hot -œcuppa- - may have a sturdy British pedigree. But long before the British in the early 1800s turned tea drinking into a social event, the Chinese, and later the Japanese, had already ritualized and popularized this beverage. Read on to learn about the royal origins of tea as well as three tasty tea-worthy recipes.
The Origins of Tea
According to the late British expat author John Blofeld – who spent most of his life traipsing across China in the early- to mid-twentieth century – the Chinese unequivocally were the
first people to discover and tame the tiny furled leaves of the tea shrubs, brewing them to form a near mystical beverage with its worldwide devotees still very active today. In fact, one very
upscale hotel in Washington, DC, has its own tea cellar (called the Tea Cellar) with its own tea sommelier.
As Blofeld reports in his book, The Chinese Art of Tea
, the Chinese were brewing and sipping tea as early as the Three Kingdoms epoch, AD 222 to 277. Several centuries later, during the T'ang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), the Chinese had moved beyond
drinking tea for its medicinal purposes to celebrating its rejuvenating effects in court gatherings. And being the most democratic of liquids, tea became the "Everyman" drink, even
favored by the Mongolian nomads.
TEA IS HEAVEN SENT
Not surprisingly, as Blofeld continues his saga of tea history, the Chinese have even deified several personages, including Lu Yü, who is known as the "Tea God" and who was able to
determine the purity of various water sources used for brewing tea, and Lu T'ung, known as the Tea Doctor," who wrote an epic poem called "The Song of Tea."
By the time the Sung Dynasty (960 to 1280 AD) and its tea emperor arrived, the Chinese had codified the picking, grading, steaming, rolling, grinding and drying of the leaves. In trading this
valuable commodity, they pressed teacakes and bundles of tea plant seeds which made their way to Japan, where another ancient tradition of venerating tea drinking evolved.
In both countries, tea houses flourished, potters created delicate tea cups and teapots, and in Japan, a very ritualized tea pouring and drinking ceremony evolved, called chado, or "the way of
tea." In this ritual, the hostess who is well-trained in the proper tea pouring and tea serving etiquette is gowned in an appropriate kimono. She heats and pours a strong green tea, and in the
custom of Japanese hospitality, offers either a light snack or a more robust meal, or kaiseki, with assorted confections.
Such ritualistic occasions may last for up to four hours. For history buffs and the just plain curious, seeking out a Japanese tea ceremony makes for a diverting occasion – just hope you can
wangle an invitation.
TAKING TEA EVERYWHERE
Fast forward to today and tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Tea is so popular that food folks have figured out ways to decaffeinate it, instantize it, and bag it in many
On the other side of the teapot, drinkers use tea as a stimulant or soother (depending on the type of tea), and as a socializer. The social affinity of tea can be a most celebratory event –
even when casual. There is no need to head to the Ritz for a formal tea service. Just invite some friends over for a relaxing break, dress up your table with decorative napkins, flowers, and pretty
plates, then brew your tea, make your tea-worthy treats, and serve.
Afternoon Tea Recipes
Chai Indian tea has swept into mainstream American coffeehouses and supermarkets with gale force, yet you can make your own spicy version within minutes. While commercial mixtures may satisfy a tea
longing, a home-brewed pot of this beverage is a knock out. Be sure your spices are fresh – old cinnamon sticks won't impart any flavor. Also bruise the ginger slices, so they release
their pungent wonderful juices.
4 to 6 tablespoons Earl Grey or black tea leaves (not bagged tea)
1 1/2 cups hot milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Peel from 1 orange, bruised to release oils
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
Bring 4 cups of water just to a boil. Meanwhile, put the tea leaves, milk, sugar, orange peel, ginger slices, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cardamom seeds into a teapot. Add the hot water and steep for
at least 5 minutes. Pour the tea through a fine-mesh sieve, and enjoy.
Serves 6 to 8
Using toasted tempeh as the "bread" base, these sandwiches are quick and easy to assemble.
1 (8-ounce) package tempeh (found in refrigerated or freezer section of health food stores)
Spreadable cream cheese, softened at room temperature
Cut the tempeh block into serving pieces, about 1 x 1/2-inch thick. Spray a nonstick skillet with vegetable spray. Heat the skillet over medium heat, and toast the tempeh pieces until golden on both
sides. Remove, and cool. Spread each piece with cream cheese as desired, and top with a thin slice of guava paste. Serve.
Limoncello Tea Cake with Almonds
Serves 6 to 8
With an extravagant lemon flavor and sugary crust, this tea loaf needs at least one day to firm and fully develop its flavor. Although you may be tempted, do not slice it until the cake is thoroughly
cool. Limoncello, a rich Italian lemon-flavored liqueur, is available at liquor stores and Italian food stores.
1/3 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons limoncello
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch bread loaf pan. Dust with flour.
2. Beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together until pale and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold them into the
batter alternately with the milk and 3 tablespoons limoncello. Fold in the zest and almonds, and spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the center is firm to the touch. Cool on a cake rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan. While the cake is still warm, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar
and 2 tablespoons limoncello, and drizzle over the cake. Continue cooling on a rack until completely cooled.
For more tantalizing tea articles, check out these links:
Green tea, white tea, black tea, tea blends and tea time