I’ve always loved afternoon tea. Well, actually that’s not true. When I was young, I was a dyed in the wool coffee drinker. I used to say of tea, “why would anybody want to drink wet leaves?” This was before I went to Jamaica on my honeymoon. We stayed at this beautiful old British colonial style inn.
Each room had an open air loggia covered in bougainvillea. And even though it was hot as blazes, every afternoon at 4 p.m. a white-gloved waiter would serve us tea and digestive biscuits while we sat and looked out on the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Carribean.
It was amazing and fancy, and we were very young, unsophisticated and totally out of our element. Now, I don’t know if it was the romance of the place or what, but ever since then, I have acquired a taste for tea. Not just any tea, mind you, I like Earl Grey with a splash of milk just the way the English serve it. And when I discovered the full cream tea with cucumber sandwiches, cakes, and scones with Devonshire cream, I became a tea convert for life.
When we travel, we always try to find a lovely little inn, tea room or swanky hotel that serves afternoon tea so that we can indulge. We also had a tradition when our girls were little to take them to a Christmas Tea at the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. They would get all dressed up in their holiday finery, and they’d bring their American Girl dolls along to sip hot chocolate and look at the decorations. It was magical.
There is just something so civilized and comforting about the ritual of pouring and sipping this hot, fragrant brew while popping all manner of goodies into your gob.
One time we took our kids to this crazy over-the-top tea house where they just kept bringing plate after plate of scrumptious delicacies. Totally stuffed, we had just polished off a plate of beautifully decorated tea cakes and were preparing to pay the bill when the server swooped in and placed yet another plate groaning with enormous cream puffs in the center of the table, announcing with a flourish “and now for the final dessert!” We couldn’t stop laughing. This made such an impression that it has continued to be a family joke as every time they’ve eaten their last bite of cake, pie, or whatever, my kids will ask “now that we’ve finished that, what are we having for the final dessert?”
This is all to say that when I think of a Valentine’s Day celebration that expresses romance or even just love of my family, I think of afternoon tea. I always serve two different kinds of loose tea (usually Earl Grey and something like English Breakfast) as well as hot chocolate for the unenlightened who have not embraced the leaf.
This year for Vday I set my table with my antique teapots, my collection of mismatched china plates, cups and saucers, silver tea strainers, flowers, etched crystal goblets and crisp white linens.
Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to set a pretty table, share a pot of tea, and gobble up some sweet treats with your loved ones but as you sample all the tea sandwiches, scones and petit forts always remember to save room for the final dessert.
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