Afternoon Tea Anyone?

Scones

The taking of Afternoon Tea first arose in England in the 1840’s just as the Agrarian Age began to give way to the Industrial Victorian era. The class structure at that time saw the upper classes eating luncheon at about Noon, with dinner or at times a late supper, at 8pm or later. The lower orders ate their more substantial meal, referred to as, dinner, at about 11.30 am and had a lighter meal, which they called tea or supper, after the working day at about 7pm.

For both classes a welcome mid afternoon cup of tea with a little something delicious filled the gap between main meals. The custom spread throughout the Empire and beyond for decades to come. These days changes in social customs, working hours, and conditions mean that most people rarely have time to take afternoon tea in quite that prescribed way.

Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a warmed teapot and served in a china cup and saucer with milk and, if preferred, sugar. For the working poor of the Industrial Age the sugar and caffeine provided fortification against the doldrums of long working hours. Theirs was a hard-scrabble life of physically demanding labour and they ate far less than their 21st century counterparts. For these laborers strong tea was often accompanied by a small sandwich or a baked scone that had been packed for them in the morning.

For the privileged few afternoon tea was replete with luxury ingredients. Sandwiches of cucumber, egg, fish paste, ham and smoked salmon. This over the top culinary feast was followed by baked scones, served with clotted cream and jam and cakes and pastries that might include a Battenburg, fruit cake or a delicious Victoria sponge.

The High Tea or Creamed Tea we partake of today is an emulation of the opulent lifestyle of the English upper classes in the hey day of the British Empire. Although these days it’s become quite a trend to suspend calorie counting and splurge and it’s a great alternative to the wine bar or pub allowing you to spend time with friends who don’t imbibe.

A luke warm cup of water with a stale old tea bag on the side is not tea. If anyone tries to serve you such you can quote literary geniuses like, George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens, and tell them it is quite simply, swill, and out of the question.

Tibet and the Murmur of a Prayer

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TIBET. Land of mystery and intrigue. Roof of our world. Peeking out from the highest of mountains. Swirling in the clouds like tea in the bone china cup. Tempting us with tales of pleasure domes and eternal life. Traversed by nomads and ancient explorers. Spoken with reverence by Marco Polo. Immortalized in poems. And in our mind’s eye a perfect Xanadu. Steeped in the tradition of the peaceful, Awakened One. Holy. Spiritual. Sublime. Oppressed by those who fear for their own souls and should. Tibet, you are immortal and will live forever.

For Lovers of the Arcane

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History and art were my favorite subjects when I was growing up in England and they still are today. The knowledge one stores in the recesses of the mind has a way of percolating through to the present time to become something of an applied science in the modern world. Here’s an extract from one of my most treasured books, A Shortened History of England, by G.M. Trevelyan. His skill with language could bring any passage of history alive in the mind and fire up the imagination to conjure up vivid dioramas.

For many centuries after Britain became an island the untamed forest was king. Its moist and mossy floor was hidden from heaven’s eye by a close-drawn curtain woven of innumerable treetops, which shivered in the breezes of summer dawn and broke into wild music of millions upon millions of wakening birds; the concert was prolonged from bough to bough with scarcely a break for hundreds of miles over hill and plain and mountain, unheard by man save where, at rarest intervals, a troop of skin-clad hunters, stone-axe in hand, moved furtively over the ground beneath, ignorant that they lived upon an island, not dreaming that there could be other parts of the world besides this damp green woodland with its meres and marshes, wherein they hunted, a terror to its four-footed inhabitants and themselves afraid.
– A Shortened History of England – G.M. Trevelyan