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Tea time is steeped in tradition

AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day

Publication: The Day

Published December 12. 2012 4:00AM   Updated December 12. 2012 9:15AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Colleen Manning, left, of New York City, and her mother, Debbie Manning, of East Lyme have afternoon tea at the Bee & Thistle Inn in Old Lyme Dec. 7.

English tea time has a long and rich history-established by 17th-century ladies of royalty that continues today in homes and tea rooms throughout Great Britain where taking tea in the afternoon is enjoyed by men and women of all social classes.

Afternoon tea is a late afternoon meal, usually made up of sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, sweets and tea. It's also referred to as low tea because it was typically served in a parlor or drawing room where guests sat in chairs and sofas with low tables on which to place their cups and saucers.

High tea is often misconstrued as a formal affair with a long list of etiquette rules, when in fact it originated as an evening working class meal taken around 6 p.m., bulked up with meat and potatoes along with tea, savories and sweets.

Tea time is enjoying a renaissance in the region where several restaurants and cafes are keeping alive the tradition of taking time out for a relaxing spot of tea, a bite to eat, and a bit of conversation.

Old Lyme's Bee & Thistle Inn

Linnea Rufo, Bee & Thistle innkeeper, is continuing the ritual of Victorian afternoon teas begun by former inn owner Penny Nelson in the 1980s. The fine china teapots and cups Nelson collected deck the tables set around the fireplace in the cozy front parlor of the historic inn. This year, due to its popularity, the inn is offering teas every Thursday through Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. through Feb. 15.

In addition to Harney & Sons teas, the menu consists of a variety of tea sandwiches by chef Kristofer Rowe and an assortment of sweets by pastry chef Allison Vandenberg. Unique aspects of the Bee & Thistle tea is the mood-setting music by harpist Allyn Donath and the giant gingerbread houses displayed every holiday season.

Rufo says the teas are very popular this year, and equal to the tasty fare, she attributes it to people's desire to take a break from the stimulation and stress of contemporary life-particularly now during the Christmas shopping season.

"Once you walk through these doors, you can get away from all that frenzy," she says. "People get back into conversation. There's no telephone or iPad or computer. It's just quality time spent."

Some guests, Rufo says, stay for hours on end, laughing and talking and connecting-and that all ages of people, generations of families attend the teas.

"I love it when people come in and get dressed up-although they don't have to," she says. "A lot of the same people come every year-they make it a part of their holiday tradition."

The cost of the Bee & Thistle afternoon tea is $35 or $40 with champagne (plus tax and 20 percent gratuity). Seating is limited. Call (860) 434-1667 for reservations.

Madison's Savvy Tea

Judy Guard, co-owner with Phil Parda of Savvy Tea Gourmet-which recently relocated from Durham Rd. to 693 Boston Post Road in Madison-offers year-round holiday-themed teas.

"We moved to a smaller space and didn't want to give up afternoon teas-they'd been very successful-and so we're offering them at The Mercy Center in a beautiful seaside room," Guard explains. "We thought we'd have them less often, but make them very special and different every time."

Christmas holiday-themed teas will be held Dec. 13 and 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. and Dec. 15 from 2 to 4 p.m. A winter wonderland theme is planned for January; Valentines in February; and in March, Mardi Gras, and a Madhatters kids tea.

The menu includes four kinds of tea sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, jams, quiches and a variety of European pastries.

Food is served in different courses over a two-hour period, along with a variety of teas.

"We separate ourselves by offering six different teas during that time," Guard says. "Most places you get a pot of tea on the table. For us, it's about the experience, tea education-introducing people to new and different teas. It's fun. People usually cone away saying, 'Wow, I love that tea.'"

Guard agrees with Rufo that tea time is about taking time to slow down.

"It's a very social time, she says. "It's lovely to see people relaxing, reconnecting with family and friends. That's why it's not a half hour affair. It's purposely drawn out very slow. People thank us so much-it's so necessary in this lifestyle."

Teas are $35 per person at The Mercy Center, 167 Neck Rd., Madison. A portion of cost is donated to the center. For reservations, call Savvy Tea at (203) 318-8666. More info at http://savvyteagourmet.com.

More Special-teas

Teas at Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme

Christmastime tea is served at 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday through Dec. 22, in a room overlooking the Lieutenant River. "Downtown Abbey" Day Tea at 2 p.m. on Jan. 6 will celebrate the debut of season 3 of the popular PBS show in America.

Prepared by Gourmet Galley, afternoon teas feature a selection of savories and sweets, accompanied by "Miss Florence's Tea"-a special blend from Sundial Gardens. Price is $35 per person, and includes museum admission and 10 percent discount in gift shop. Advance purchase required by calling (860) 434-5542, ext.111, or online at www.FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org.

Lyric Café and Tea Room, 243 State St., New London

Choose the theme and style of your own tea parties, from traditional English tea and Russian tea to children's tea parties and ladies afternoon get-togethers. Full service teas on fine china start at $25 per person with a four-person minimum and include a variety of teacakes, cookies, sweets, sandwiches and a glass of fine port sherry (for adults). For more information and to book a party, call (860) 440-3581 or www.lyriccafe.net.

MORE

Tea time recipes

Carrot-Ginger Tea Sandwiches

These recipes, found on whatscookingamerica.net, comes from the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. A fabled Victoria landmark since 1908, the Fairmont Empress has hosted royalty, celebrities, and guests from around the world.

Yields: 2 whole sandwiches, 4 halves or 8 fourths

Prep time: 10 min

2 grated carrots

2 tablespoons cream cheese,

softened

2 tablespoons good-quality

mayonnaise

1 teaspoon sweet ginger paste (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices multi-grain bread*

4 teaspoons unsalted butter

Alfalfa sprouts

* Choose best-quality bread possible. Never serve end slices. Freezing the bread before cutting and then spreading makes for easier handling.

In medium bowl, combine carrots, cream cheese, mayonnaise and ginger paste; add salt and pepper.

Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter. Top buttered side of 2 slices of bread with carrot/ginger mixture (about 1/4-inch thick). Sprinkle with alfalfa sprouts and top with remaining bread slices, buttered side down.

Carefully cut crusts from each sandwich with a long, sharp knife. Cut sandwiches in half diagonally and then cut in half again. If desired, decorative shapes can be made with cookie cutters.

Making sandwiches ahead of time:

If you need to make tea sandwiches in advance, to keep them from drying out, cover loosely with a sheet of wax paper and then place a damp kitchen towel over the wax paper. Never place a damp towel directly on top of the bread because the sandwiches will get soggy. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator. Uncover sandwiches just before serving.

Apricot and White Chocolate Scones

Yields 8 scones.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4-teaspoon salt

1/3 cup chilled butter, cut into

1/4-inch pieces

1/3 cup finely-chopped dried apricots, divided

2/3 cup white chocolate baking chips, divided

1 egg

1/3-cup half-and-half cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie or baking sheet with shortening or lightly spray with vegetable-oil cooking spray.

In large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture until particles are the size of small peas.

Reserve 2 tablespoons chopped apricots for topping; set aside. Stir remaining chopped apricots and 1/3 cup white chocolate baking chips into flour mixture.

Add egg and enough half-and-half until dough just leaves side of bowl and forms a ball. When making scones, work the dough quickly and do not over mix.

Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead gently 10 times. Pat or roll into 8-inch circle on cookie sheet. Cut into 8 wedges, but do not separate. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately remove from baking sheet; carefully separate wedges.

In microwave-safe bowl in microwave, melt remaining 1/3-cup white chocolate chips in 15 to 20 second intervals. After each interval, stir (even if there is no sign of melting).

Once melted (usually after 4 or 5 cycles in the microwave) place melted chocolate chips in a small resealable plastic food-storage bag. Cut off small corner of bag; pipe small amount of melted chips over scones. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons chopped apricots. Pipe remaining melted chips over scones. Serve warm or cool.

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