Friday, November 30, 2012

Time for Tea

"Under certain circumstance there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.  There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not -- some people of course never do, -- the situation is in itself delightful."
-- Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

via here

Tomorrow is the first day of December.  Every year at about this time I realize that December is a month of sweets -- in terms of food and experiences.  There are so many treats along the way during this month that lead up to the big holiday.  For example, many restaurants put out little evergreen trees as part of their decor in December.  They always make me smile. Seasonal foods begin to appear on their menus such as gingerbread desserts and eggnog ice cream. Bakeries begin to feature peppermint chocolate cookies and yule logs.  And people start to invite you to cookie exchange and tree trimming parties.  Another December tradition that I notice are tea parties.  Many people want to celebrate the season with an afternoon tea.

This week I went to a tea party that was held at a friend's house.  She invited a small group of women to get together in the late afternoon for a glass of champagne followed by scones and finger sandwiches.  We gathered together in the living room and sipped steaming cups of tea and munched on cookies.  It was an intimate group and there was a conviviality and warmth that pervaded the conversation.  We talked about many subjects and no one wanted to leave. Outside the rain had started to fall and, as the afternoon darkened, we were cozily ensconced in the warm environment that our hostess had created.  Her Christmas tree had just gone up, though it hadn't been decorated yet.  The expectations for that bare tree filled my head. As I drove away I thought about the ritual of afternoon tea and how charming it can be.  Especially when you get together with a great group of women.  I know that I have said it before, but there is nothing that a group of women can't get done.  I am always impressed by this dynamic group and all that they do.  There was much laughter and many good stories.

The tradition of teatime has long been a cherished one and many of my favorite images of tea come from novels set in England.   The images evoke feelings of tranquility, delicious and old-fashioned foods such as crumpets and scones, and intimate conversations in front of the fire.  I think about characters in the novels of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen who always seem to be toasting crumpets.  Movies and television shows set in England abound with scenes of afternoon tea parties.  "Downton Abbey" rarely has an episode in which the characters are not partaking in afternoon tea.

Around Christmas time there are plenty of opportunities to go to tea in local hotels, all of which feature afternoon tea in a festive setting.  But nothing beats going to a friend's house and drinking endless cups of tea and eating scones with your friends.  The say that tea nurtures the soul and revives the spirit, so whether you get together with girlfriends over a pot of tea or make one for yourself, be sure to put on the kettle and bring out a pretty cup and saucer.  It will make you feel good.   There is nothing cozier on a gray winter day than hearing the whistle of the tea pot, making a cuppa, and delving into that new book.

And speaking of good books, I have been reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James which opens with one of the most famous tea scenes in all of literature.

Lady Grantham from "Downton Abbey"

"In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival -- almost one may call it -- of afternoon tea...The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose." 
-- George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Go here for my favorite recipe for Cranberry Orange Scones.  I have made them many times and they are delicious!


  1. Afternoon tea is such a lovely tradition, but as usual, I have a question. Doesn't the caffeine bother you, and everybody? And herbal tea just isn't quite the same thing with finger sandwiches, scones, etc.
    What I really love about this idea, is the ritual and idea of going slower and enjoying life and friends more. Taking a break. This isn't something that comes easily for me, but am looking for ways to incorporate nice breaks into my daily routine. That book in the first photo "Mysterious Objects" looks fascinating.

    1. Kathy,
      Tetley tea make de~caffeinated orange pekoe and Earl Grey blends and you really cannot differentiate in the flavour.

    2. Thanks Leslie, I'll look for them today. I love Earl Grey.

    3. Hi Kathy,
      I wasn't able to get to my computer yesterday to answer your question. Hostess is right, there are so many good de-caffeinated teas for drinking with all those goodies. For some reason I am able to drink caffeinated tea until about 5:00 pm and it doesn't affect my sleep. You really captured the spirit of what I love about this custom, slowing down and enjoying life and friends more.
      xx Sunday

  2. What a lovely idea! I love the idea of an afternoon tea party with girlfriends. Ida's scone recipe looks terrific. I need lots of soft butter available too. Hmm...perhaps I'll schedule one to break up the craziness of the holidays that are exploding around us all.

  3. Sunday, once again we are on the same wave length. Just this morning I began looking for a tea shop in Portland to find the perfect gift for my tea loving sister. As for the scones, I will try them for sure. I love making scones and if they're from Ina Garten I'm sure they're wonderful. Have a great weekend!

  4. The Christmas tea celebration has been part of our family tradition for my daughter Meghan and me. Starting when Meghan was 5, the two of us and our friends Judy and Sara Sandstrom would go to tea At Trumps. When Trumps closed we went to various hotels that have wonderful teas. Since I drink tea every morning (Earl Grey) I love good tea. Of course scones are a favorite also. I must say I am a fan of current scones. You could never deny my Anglo heritage.

  5. Sunday, My favorite time of the day is tea time. Once the temperatures begin to fall I exchange to ice tea pitcher for a pot of steaming tea. It is my treat after a day at school. A tea party is a fabulous way to begin the season. Cranberry/Orange is the perfect flavor for the season. I may need to make these this weekend....or maybe this afternoon.

    I hope your daughter is not have too difficult of a time with the weather in San Francisco has been experiencing. It sounds like they are receiving a pounding with the rain. Have a wonderful weekend. Bonnie

  6. Perfect timing for the orange & cranberry scone recipe as I want to make some for afternoon tea the Sunday before Christmas. Thank you.

  7. I love entertaining my friends with an afternoon tea.
    Even more so I love being invited out for a tea!
    There are many great tea shops here so we are fortunate to have an array of fine teas available.
    Those scones sound delicious Ina has so many great recipes, I've never been disappointed.

  8. Just reading about your tea and seeing your luscious pictures is compelling me to make a "cuppa" and settle down with my current book. In fact, if you will excuse, I am going to do just that!

  9. I've never really liked tea, but I love the idea of a tea party. All the little cakes & sandwiches and good conversation are more enticing to me than the tea is so I would go for them. PBS is holding a Downton tea party this month in Phoenix and showing a preview of season three during the event - unfortunately, I am working the Saturday that it is being held!

  10. Sunday,

    This looks like a wonderful day, tea and treats with friends. I love a good tea party, but I prefer hot chocolate. As for the little sandwiches and cakes I could eat many of those. I hope you have a fabulous December with your family and friends.

    P.S I love portrait of a lady.


  11. A tea party and The Portrait of a Lady are both personal favorites - an excellent combination! Beautiful post.

  12. Tea, girlfriend gossip and books sound perfect!

  13. I love the quotes about tea! You have quite the collection!!

  14. Afternoon Tea - a perfect delight, but please, please, please, don't call it High Tea (I know you don't Sunday)...I see this mistake time and again in the US and Canada - High Tea is a totally different meal, called so because it is served at a 'high" table!