Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a little obsessed with tea… actually I have been most of my life. When it says “my cup runs over”, I like to think they mean with tea, since tea makes me joyful (Psalm 23:5). For whatever reason, for as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to both the beverage and occasion of tea. Whenever an excuse comes my way– birthday, mother’s day, friend coming over, sun is shining, sun is not shining, etc.–I like to make a pot of tea. If I happen to have enough time to expand on that and do the whole spread, that is my idea of an exceptionally delightful day!
With all of the talk in the news about “tea parties”, I have secretly hoped that they will again become popular (even after the politics) as they once were when Anna (the mere duchess of Bedford…no, not the queen of England) started the fashion so many years ago…
My personal history with tea began when my mom would boil the kettle on the stove and then pour hot water over the bag of whatever flavor of tea (raspberry, mint, Constant Comment, or Sleepytime) she had in the pantry. We always re-brewed the bag a time or two and I usually put a lot of sugar in my cup. Since then I’ve changed my tactics for making tea and extensively collected anything tea related. From my first tea cookbook (thank you again Aunt Becky…I think I was 11 then wasn’t I?) to the numerous tea pots that I now refuse to count, there is evidence of my love for tea in every room of my house. At Christmas I even decorate one of my trees exclusively with tea themed ornaments.
More precious to me than the things that remind me of tea are the memories I have tied to the ritual. I learned a lot about the standard English protocol of afternoon tea while I worked at the Williamsburg Inn in Virginia. Perhaps because of my love for tea, the restaurant’s afternoon tea service quickly became my responsibility to oversee. And to the dear lady who spent that rainy afternoon sending back pot after pot of “bad” tea, I hope you have since remembered that you must choose, lemon or milk, not both (even though we did give both to you). Lemon juice does make milk curdle,
I have dutifully consumed afternoon tea wherever the opportunity has come up. The collection of recipes below reflects a few of my favorite things to serve when the occasion arises. I prefer to base my tea service on the standard we served at the Inn,,,three courses: sandwiches, scones, and finishing with mini desserts.
After learning more about the intricacy of the Japanese tea ceremony in Honolulu, I realized that I probably lack the patience for such a painstaking ritual. The Japanese woman who taught us the Omotesenke Tradition for tea in her Chashitsu (tea room) was such a delight to learn from. In Chinatown San Francisco, I discovered and enjoyed the more flavor-focused approach to tea in a Taiwanese tea room.
One of my funniest experiences though was when I randomly served afternoon tea to the friend of a friend visiting from England. As I was brewing the pot “correctly” according to my guest (with loose tea), I discovered that my guest was actually the son of the President of the label of tea that I was serving. (Whew! Thank goodness I was serving the right brand that day!)
It did seem a little weird to sit under a Banyan tree in a courtyard on the beach in Waikiki at the Moana hotel and enjoy afternoon tea on their lanai. But I must say, displaced as it seemed, that is my personal favorite tea memory. Somehow the green tea ice cream they served as a fourth course made everything seem to fit…or maybe it was the gentle breeze from the ocean?
How to Brew a Perfect Pot of Tea
1. Fill a kettle with cold water and place on a stove to boil.
2. Warm the tea pot by filling with hot tap water. Pour water out.
3. Place loose tea in pot. Add one teaspoon for each cup being brewed and one “for the pot”.
4. Pour boiling water into pot; place lid on.
5. Allow to brew for five minutes, then pour.
This is the standard procedure for black or Darjeeling tea. If, however, you are using white, green, rooibus, or matte teas, please check the label or tea vendor in case there are specific brewing instructions. You can pour though a tea strainer, let the tea leaves sink to the bottom of your cup, use a tea ball, or use bags if you prefer not to drink the tea with the leaves in it.
Pimento Cheese Spread
2 cups (8oz) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 jar (2 oz) diced pimento, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onion, finely chopped
Combine all ingredients, stirring well. Remove crusts from wheat bread and flatten bread with a rolling pin. Spread with cheese mixture, roll up, and slice into pinwheels. If desired, garnish with ½ of a pimento stuffed green olive. Yield: about 2 cups of filling
Cucumber Sandwiches with Basil Butter
1 English hothouse cucumber, thinly sliced
½ tsp sea salt
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 TBSP fresh basil paste
Whole wheat bread, crusts removed
Place cucumber slices in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. This will draw the moisture out of the cucumber. After they have sat for at least 15 minutes, rinse lightly and shake dry. Combine butter and basil. Spread each slice of bread on one side with butter mixture. Top one slice with cucumber slices and another piece of the buttered bread, then cut to desired shape and enjoy. If you are not planning to eat right away, cover with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 TBSP baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold & cut into tsp size pieces
1/3 cup sugar
2 TBSP finely grated lemon zest
2/3 cup milk
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Whisk sugar and zest together. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two butter knives until mixture resembles fine meal. Whisk in sugar mixture then stir in milk.
Flour work surface, turn out dough and work quickly. Knead only about 10 times (if you work the dough too much the biscuits will be tough). Roll to ½” thickness and cut into circles with 1 ½” circle cutter or wedges if you prefer. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes until golden brown on top. Serve warm with butter and lemon curd.
4 large eggs, beaten
2½ TBSP lemon zest
8 TBSP fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/8 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in top of a double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent curdling, until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Pour into bowl. Yield: about 2 cups
Lavender Sugar Cookies
1 stick butter
1 tsp dried lavender flowers (food grade)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
Cream butter, sugar, and lavender together, add the egg and mix together. In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients and whisk together. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture then blend well. Stir in vanilla.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Dough can be rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter, dropped with a scoop and flattened, or formed into a log and sliced. Bake 8-10 minutes until done but no significant color change. Allow cookies to rest on the pan for a few minutes after removing from oven before transferring to a cooling rack. Do not allow them to cool completely on cookie sheet or they will stick. If desired, dust with powdered sugar. Yield 20 servings.
Mini Fudge Brownie Cakes with Raspberries
2 sticks of butter, melted
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1 TBSP instant coffee
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 recipe Easy Ganache (if desired)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Separate mini foil baking cups on foil pan. (This recipe will normally fill a baking sheet of mini foil cups; dispose of the paper dividers). Mix together the butter, sugars, and eggs. Dissolve the coffee in the vanilla and add to butter and sugar mixture. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients then pour them into the butter sugar mixture and stir well. Using a mini scoop, put about 1 TBSP of batter in each foil cup (do not fill more than half full) and bake about 10 minutes, until dry on top but still a little gooey in the middle. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, top each cupcake with about a teaspoon of Ganache and a few fresh raspberries.
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Whisk cream, coffee and extract in to melted chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and cool.