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TEA

VALENTINE TEA

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There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony of afternoon tea.
–Henry James

Valentine’s Day is the most magical moment to indulge in this delicious tradition.

The romance of tea and the romance of life shine through every indulgent element of a Valentine’s Day tea party, from the first fragrant sip of hot tea to the last delicious crumb of the cake. Think of it as an oasis of tranquility, a soothing respite from reality, and a loving tribute to heartfelt hospitality. The custom of taking tea sincere hospitality hot tea sentiment in a chest of tea party valentines day tea table

The tradition of making tea in the afternoon originated in England in the early nineteenth century, an era when the day’s main meals were a hearty early breakfast and a late-evening meal served at around 8 P.M., or sometimes as late as 10 P.M. Lunch as we know it today did not yet exist, though a very light midday snack was served.

Late one afternoon the fashionable Anna, seventh Duchess of Bedford, who often experienced a sinking feeling as the day wore on, instructed her maid to bring a pot of tea and a tempting selection of small sandwiches and cakes to her boudoir. Her hunger pangs vanished. The gap between breakfast and dinner had been filled with finesse.

Soon the duchess began inviting friends over to indulge in a reviving hour or so of sipping, nibbling, and gossip. A half-century later Queen Victoria’s love of tea firmly established this refreshing ritual as an enduring social tradition, and the Victorian era became the golden age of afternoon tea. Hostesses vied with each other to make 4 o’clock tea — a time referred to as the shining moment — a calm, refined respite of sumptuousness and elegance. Theme teas became quite fashionable, especially ones honoring Valentine’s Day. Grace and dignity are the keynotes of the Valentine’s Day tea table, whether it’s an intimate tête-à-tête for two or a buffet-style occasion for 20. Invite guests the old-fashioned way — with a handwritten invitation. Arrange your most beautiful china and silver atop lace or crocheted tablecloth, then gild the lily wherever possible. Tea parties are inherently theatrical, so think of the tea table as a stage set and give your fantasies free rein.

Some tips:

Lavishly sprinkle the tabletop with red, heart-shaped confetti or paper hearts.
Make abundant use of paper doilies by setting them atop cake plates and sandwich platters.
Tuck a Valentine signed by a secret admirer under each guest’s plate.
Tie rolled-up cloth napkins with big red ribbons.
In place of regular sugar, fill the sugar bowl with rock crystal sugar (available at specialty food shops).
Float a single unsprayed rose petal in each teacup.
Serve tiny glasses of a sweet dry or medium-dry Sherry.
Sweeten the mood with teatime tunes. Possibilities include Strauss waltzes, melodious Mozart, lighthearted Haydn, sprightly Vivaldi, sultry tangos, and gentle harp music.
Draw the curtains and serve tea by candlelight.
Present each guest with a tissue paper-wrapped red rose upon departure. There is a great deal of poetry and beautiful sentiment in a chest of tea.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Next, to water, tea is the world’s most famous beverage. All tea grows from a bush that is a member of the Camellia sinensis family. The leaves are processed into three types of tea: black, oblong, and green. Black beverage, which makes the richest, heartiest brews, is thoroughly fermented.

Partially fermented oblong produces a lighter-flavored, lighter-colored tea than black does.

Green tea, which results in the most delicate, pale-colored brew, is not fermented. Within these three tea types, there are several thousand possibilities, including many unique blends. Some teas and tea blends are more suitable than others for serving in the afternoon. As a special treat for Valentine’s Day, you might consider one of the rose tea blends available from various companies. Delicate and fragrant rose tea is a mixture of China black and rose petals. Below are other good afternoon tea choices:

Assam

Grown in northeast India. Intense and full-bodied, with a pleasant, vibrant color. Often used in blends, this is equally pleasing served on its own.

Ceylon

Grown in Sri Lanka. Golden colored, with a full taste and delicate fragrance. Serve with milk or lemon.

Darjeeling

Grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and known as the Champagne of teas. Very flavorful, with a refined taste and a rich aroma reminiscent of muscatel grapes. The classic afternoon tea.

Earl Grey

The world’s most famous tea blend. A combination of Chinese and Indian black teas made fragrant with oil of bergamot. The delicate but distinctive flavor is not for everyone. Best served without milk or sugar.

China Oblong

Partially fermented. Brews up straw-colored with a restrained, fruity (almost peachy) flavor and a delicate fragrance. Never served with milk.

Keemun

A China tea from Anhui Province. Called the Burgundy of teas by connoisseurs. Brews up a light, bright color with a smooth, slightly nutty, almost sweet taste. Fine with or without milk.

1. Fill the kettle with fresh, cold tap water and set on the stove to boil.

2. Meanwhile, fill the teapot with boiling water, put the lid on, and let it warm.

3. Just before the water in the kettle reaches a full, rolling boil, empty the water from the teapot and add one teaspoon of loose tea per person, plus one for the pot.

4. When the water reaches the boiling point, take the teapot to the kettle, pour the boiling water into the pot, and cover with the lid. Allow the tea to brew for between 3 and 5 minutes, depending on the tea type. Large-leaf drinks take longer to ferment; small-leaf ones require less time.

5. Stir the tea once before pouring.

6. Pour through a tea strainer into cups. 1The menu for a classic afternoon tea should be a well-balanced offering of sweet and savory treats that includes scones accompanied by strawberry jam and butter or clotted cream (sold in jars at specialty food stores), an array of dainty tea sandwiches, and a selection of sweet morsels such as miniature tarts, diminutive eclairs or cream puffs, madeleines, shortbreads, bite-size cookies, assorted cakes, and tiny pastries. It is customary to nibble these delicacies in a progression that begins with the savories (scones and sandwiches) and draws to a sweet conclusion with cake and other sugary temptations.

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