Another novelty is the tea-party, an extraordinary meal in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment.
the ritual of afternoon tea is one of my favorite institutions and so i was delighted to visit the home of this amazing ritual and experience it as…not a special occasion–but as a normal part of every day life. tea is intended as a pick-me-up moment to relax and refresh yourself in the mid afternoon–the time of day i am usually longing that i hadn’t used my latte-of-the-day in the morning (when i was trying to drag myself to the office). it is uncharacteristic, i think, to the typical american because it involves taking a break from your work–putting aside everything for that moment–and sitting down, not to watch tv, gulp coffee out of a paper cup, or even to take a brisk walk down the street–it’s mean for an individual to sit, alone or with friends, and clear the mind, and relax! a little perk of caffeine, a little rush of sugar, and a little sustenance…and most of all, a little humanity seeps back into your body as you sip. stir in milk. stir in sugar. use a spoon and drink from a cup that is not disposable. taste the food instead of shoving it down so you can get back to work. and remember that you are human.
london’s cafes offer a number of places and ways you can have afternoon tea–not necessarily the high tea that is offered at harrods and fancy hotels–even in the states, but an afternoon cream tea: a pot of tea with milk and sugar, a hot scone with jam and clotted cream. it’s a perfect little afternoon snack to revive after working all day or wandering through museums and art galleries. these are offered all over the city for about £5-£7–still a bit pricey. and there are more refined and fancy tea services available as well!
my favorite tea experience was at kensington palace in the orangery. having arrived at 2:30 in the afternoon, we couldn’t order the formal tea (strictly served after 3pm only). but the friendly server suggested that we create our own tea by ordering, piecemeal, items off the menu. my husband is a savory lover, and a lover of cheese, so he was inclined to order the cheese plate, which meant i was allowed to choose the cake! our cheese plate consisted of a creamy, delicious mull of kintyre cheese, quince jelly, celery, and duchy oatcakes. i choose the orangery signature cake–the orangery cake–a spicy, citrus cake with creamy frosting, which i chose from the dessert table near the main entrance. i don’t know who could resist after seeing all those cakes and tarts! it was hard to choose only one, but i went with the signature…which seems to be a good idea usually. as the orangery is a member of the british tea guild we each ordered a pot of loose-leaf tregothnan afternoon tea (grown in england), extremely high quality and delicate and delicious.
as we sat and enjoyed our little meal together in the 18th century green house for growing oranges, we took in the stunning details of the room…with the floor to ceiling windows, it was bright and airy. a beautiful building, a fabulous place to have tea before a walk through the gardens.
i wanted to see a part of the city where the english roots and traditions could be more easily seen–a place that felt more like the country side, less urban, and so my husband took me to hampstead heath. it feels like a town, though it’s quite inside london, and has one cafe-lined main street. (and a fantastic antique market!) before returning to central london, my husband and i stopped for a latte (ok not technically tea) at a french-run cafe and bakery. there i sampled the most amazing carrot cake of my entire life–rich and textured, cream-cheese frosting and topped with red currants and strawberries. of course, sipping the latte and savoring the cake outside the cafe in their little table area, watching traffic roll down the little main street of the neighborhood was a perfect way to take a little break while pondering which antiques i would take home with me later on.
upon my return to my little city on the coast, i missed the culture of an afternoon treat. when i go to a coffee shop, lunch spot, or even out for dinner, it never feels the same way. i don’t feel invited to sit and savor and sense the things around me. i feel rushed, like there is a line forming behind me and i should try my best to hurry it on up. that and, of course, it isn’t typically acceptable for me to leave the office for an hour while i take in an afternoon tea break. i miss the institution. there really isn’t much to compare to the lifestyle of tea, sitting, savoring, sensing. recharging. delighting in the moment. it’s a fantastic institution.
what are your afternoon rituals?
check out tea in london:
the orangery at kensington palace: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/CafesAndRestaurants.aspx
cilantro london: http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/restaurants/cilantro-info-55720.html
cafe rouge: http://www.caferouge.co.uk/
gail’s bread: http://www.gailsbread.co.uk/