You may not have the castle intrigue to discuss over afternoon tea that the dwellers of Downton Abbey do, but a warm cup of tea is a good way to soothe the winter-weary soul.
The number of tea drinkers continues to grow as more are discovering the relaxation that goes along with indulging in a proper cup of tea.
Angela Strach-Gotthardt, who holds tea salons through her business, the Secret Tea Society in Hudson, said tea is experiencing a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. for a variety of reasons.
Some folks are exploring teas for health reasons — green and white teas are packed with antioxidants. Others are rediscovering tea due to the cultural impression they see on television shows like Downton Abbey, where the aristocratic English family spends much time indulging in tea.
Strach-Gotthardt said once people drink tea they become hooked on the relaxation that it brings and the human connection they find when sharing tea with others.
“The human connection is why what I’m doing has been so successful,” she said. “The holding it, smelling it, sitting down and talking is what people remember when they have a cup of tea with someone. It’s such an enjoyable time. It’s the human connection that people take time for with tea.”
Strach-Gotthardt said she believes people are craving that connectedness, and the natural compounds in tea make the drinking experience all the more enjoyable.
“A chemical component in tea, L-theanine, has that smooth-out factor,” she said, “It’s naturally calming.”
When it comes to drinking tea, there are thousands to chose from, and Strach-Gotthardt’s advice is to keep trying different varieties — black, green, white, herbal, oolong, darjeeling — until you find ones that you really enjoy.
“When I was in fashion, I always loved to tell people, if you think you can’t wear a hat, you haven’t tried on enough hats. It’s the same with tea. There is a tea for everyone,” she said.
White is a good tea for starters because it doesn’t contain a lot of tannins, which can make tea more acidic.
To make a proper cup or pot of tea, Strach-Gotthardt instructs to start with ice cold water and bring it to a full boil for black or oolong teas, and to just under a boil when making white, green or herbal teas because their leaves are more delicate.
Of course, the experience of sharing tea typically includes some eating as well.
Patti White, owner of Tea & Thyme Catering, said when serving food with tea, it’s always a good idea to use a combination of sweets and savories, but traditionally, the portions are small bites.
In traditional English fashion, tea was served at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so the food was really more of a snack between lunch and dinner.
She recommends three sweets and three savories, such as small tea sandwiches, and perhaps some scones or tea breads.
“It’s fun to get the variety. You get to savor gourmet little tastes, but a lot of variety of things,” White said.
As far as what to make the sandwiches from, White said the choices are endless. Chicken or tuna salads, cheese, ham or other meats. Cucumber and watercress are traditional fillings. Any breads can be used for tea sandwiches, or small tart cups or pastry puffs will hold fillings.
“You can maybe take a basic food like a chicken salad, and make it a fancy little bite,” she said.
For sweets, White said anything is fine — cakes, cookies, fruits, brownies. Just make sure they are small, one-bite sizes.
At a luncheon tea, it’s a good idea to serve foods that are more substantial, such as a salad and soup to accompany small sandwiches and sweets, White said.
When she hosts a tea, it is scheduled for two hours. White said many customers will ask if they have to stay the entire time, but once they sit down and relax with their tea, she’s never seen anyone leave early.
“After two hours they ask if they could stay longer. You slow down, enjoy the conversation, enjoy the food. It forces you to relax,” she said.
Here are some easy recipes to enjoy with your next cup of tea.
BLUEBERRY TEA BREAD
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tsp. grated orange peel
1 cup milk
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
Whipped cream cheese, optional
In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in blueberries and orange peel. In another bowl, beat eggs; add milk and oil. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve with cream cheese if desired.
Makes 1 loaf, 16 servings.
EASY LEMON TARTS
1 jar prepared lemon curd
1 box mini phyllo shells or other pre-made tart shells (15 per box)
Raspberries and blueberries, for garnish
Whipped cream, for garnish
Thaw tart shells. Place a spoon of lemon curd in each shell.
Decorate with berries and a dab of whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 15 tarts.
— Lisa Abraham
HAM TEA SANDWICHES
WITH BLUE CHEESE BUTTER
½ stick butter, softened
4 tbsp. crumbled blue cheese
3 slices deli ham
6 slices firm white bread, crusts removed
In a small bowl, use a spatula to combine the butter and blue cheese.
Spread the butter, evenly divided, on three slices of bread.
Top each buttered slice with a slice of ham, and another slice of bread. Cut into triangles.
Makes 1 dozen tea sandwiches.
— Lisa Abraham
HERBED CREAM CHEESE
AND CUCUMBER SANDWICHES
1 recipe garlic-herb cheese (recipe follows), or prepared garlic herb cheese such as Alouette or Boursin
6 slices firm-textured wheat or white bread, crusts removed
24 thin slices English cucumber
Spread herb cheese on three of the bread slices. Top each with 8 cucumber slices and remaining slices of bread.
Cut each sandwich into 4 triangles.
Makes 1 dozen tea sandwiches.
Note: You will have plenty of cheese spread left over to use on crackers or make additional sandwiches.
— Lisa Abraham
2 bars (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. half-and-half or milk
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp. minced fresh marjoram
1 tbsp. minced fresh savory
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tsp. herb or white-wine vinegar (optional)
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and half-and-half. Add the herbs, garlic, salt, cayenne and vinegar, if desired, and whisk to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.
— Victoria: The Essential Tea Companion, from the Editors of Victoria Magazine