For the past three years or so I have given in to the rejuvenating custom of "Afternoon Tea" as often as I can. It's been a rewarding habit to pick up and I've had the chance to share in the ritual with dozens of friends and relatives.
As a child I didn't care for the taste or the temperature of tea. My tongue was always burnt and there wasn't enough sugar in the bowl or honey in the pot to make it bearable. Because of this, when Mom and I went to the neighbor's for Tea, I contented myself with cookies until we left. Both of my grandmothers served tea and coffee with desserts, but as a child I concentrated more on the desserts. Then there came a time when my brother and all our cousins began to drink coffee after our meals together. I found coffee far too bitter for my pallette and adding several lumps of sugar at a time did little to hide the bitterness.
Luckily, my cousins Jenny and Jon started taking tea after dinner and I found it the lesser of two evils choicewise. It was also kind of fun to build a pyramid of sugar cubes in my cup and watch it dissolve when the hot tea poured in! Later, as a junior at the Univeristy of New hampshire, I joined the Alpha Delta Phi Society and learned the true value of taking Tea when my initiation was held at the chapter house at Brown University.
When our group arrived at the house we were greeted at the door and invited to take Tea with the chapter. It was a really lovely time. There was hot water and a vast assortment of different teas to choose from. For refreshments there were only cookies, but the food didn't matter in the least. Everyone was friendly and obliging. The students at Brown are a wonderfully creative bunch and the grand piano in the corner of the room was in use that afternoon, filling the room with smiles and delightful tunes. After being initiated as a member in the society I decided to bring these Teas to New Hampshire.
The summer was spent researching the traditional "Afternoon Teas" of the last couple centuries. A friend from school had just returned from a year at Oxford and he was full of useful information. Saturday mornings were spent yardsaling with my mother and aunt. Mom still describes her horror when she saw me buy a wall (that's right) of old china for use at the Teas. With careful planning and a lot of enthusiasm for my new favorite drink I started planning the program.
The year that I started the tea program and became "Tea Chair" for my chapter I was merciless. Constantly harassing friends and community members and dragging students and professors alike to the "Community High Teas" my chapter hosted twice a month quickly became my mission. After a month or two people were coming on their own and I really didn't need to drag anyone to Tea anymore. Of course I kept advertising and the Teas grew. On average we hosted atleast two dozen people at any given Tea. These Teas proved to be a great outreach for the chapter to the community. We held an Alzheimer's Awareness Tea as well as a couple theme teas and even a Tea in honor of veteran state politician when Councilor Burton visited campus that first year alone.
Of course, no program runs completely smoothly, but even with the little bumps experienced it was one of the most rewarding things I've been a part of. Infact, the program still exists! The Granite Chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi Society still holds "Community Teas" and is up to it's third "Tea Chair!" Each Tea Chair has had their own sense of style and taste and has kept some things and changed others, which has enhanced the ritual for chapter's members and friends. It's my hope that the ritual will become a tradition lasting as long as the Granite Chapter itself.
The ritual of taking "Afternoon Tea" needn't be overly formal or elaborate. When I'm home all by myself at 4 in the afternoon I often brew a pot of tea and place a few cookies or biscuits on a plate, then head to the family room to listen to music or read a bit. Sometimes I share Tea with a friend or two. A couple times I've held larger Teas at our house in the place of expensive cocktail parties. According to Alexandra Stoddard, enjoying a sip of tea is a way in which we renew ourselves and open ourselves up to tranquility. I couldn't agree with her more. Tea has proven a wonderful bonding agent at school and can be enjoyed at the office or in the store too. Invite a few neighbors over for tea on a Sunday afternoon and you won't regret offering your hospitality (depending on the neighbors of course).
In closing this post, I promise to delve into Teas as I continue writing. There will be menu ideas and anecdotes, as well as tips on china, silver, and parties. For now I just had to share the value I found in taking Tea and the success my chapter has had in hosting our friends at UNH. Infact, this week's "Community Tea" hosted just over a dozen happy, well fed, people!