Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tea time around the world!

Hello my dear friends! I'm so glad you popped by today for a visit. If this is your first time visiting Natasha in Oz {dot} com I hope you enjoy your visit. Why not grab a cup of tea and join me for a trip around the world!

Every afternoon, at about 4pm, my husband rings me and asks me "What's for Tea?" When he first asked me this years ago I had no idea what he was on about...was he asking me what kind of tea I was drinking? Was he asking me what flavour of biscuit I was eating with my tea? Then I discovered that the word "Tea" can have many meanings depending where you are in the world. The word "Tea" refers to a beverage made with tea leaves but it can also refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country's customs and its history of drinking tea.

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz

In those countries where the term's use is common, the influences are generally those of the former British Empire. For example, here in Australia many people call their early evening meal their "tea" while others will call it "dinner". My husband's family obviously called their main meal "tea" whereas my family calls the evening meal "dinner." I learnt that the use of the word tea to mean the evening meal reflects the custom of Northern England, Wales and Scotland where this type of meal is often called "high tea." In Hong Kong, "tea" seems to refer to a light meal that is served in the middle of the afternoon from about 2pm to 6pm. This is a practice that Hong Kong people adopted from the British concept of Afternoon Tea during the late period of British colonial rule. The food taken consists of some light meals or snacks such as sandwiches, toast, or more substantial fares served together with milk tea, coffee, Horlicks, Ovaltine, yuenyeung, lemon tea for Western style food, and Chinese tea for Chinese style food.

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz
Tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore

In France, the traditional afternoon snack for French children when they return home after a long day studying at school is known as "Le Goûter" (pronounced “luh goo tay”) and happens around 4 PM, when children are getting out of school and workers are heading into the last 1-2 hours of work. At this time, children will rush home to get a delicious treat, but not enough to spoil their appetite for dinner. Generally this snack could be a baguette or roll with butter and jam or chocolate shavings or a spread like Nutella, or chocolate cookies, accompanied by hot chocolate.

French workers, will take to cafes and tea houses to grab their own le goûter. Grown-ups however, have more sophisticated treats like chocolate croissants, macaroons, or fruit tartes, usually accompanied with coffee or tea.

Macarons from Le Goûter Bernardaud 

The term "high tea" is also used in the United States to refer to afternoon tea or the "tea party," a very formal, ritualised gathering in which tea, thin sandwiches and little cakes are served on the best china. This form of tea is increasingly served in high-end American hotels, often during the Christmas holidays. We were lucky enough to go to a magnificent High Tea at the Ritz in San Francisco just before Christmas in 2005. It was a Teddy Bear's Tea and the kids got all dressed up and we had a wonderful afternoon.

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz

The kids each received teddies and we were entertained by a Christmas "elf" called Binky who sang a variety of songs, both Christmas and pop, and he told a story.

There was also a very large teddy bear walking around to hug boys and girls.

So what then is the difference between tea, afternoon tea, high tea and low tea? Well, Catherine of Braganza, the queen-consort of Charles II of England, brought the trend of tea drinking to the UK from Portugal. It was called “a China drink” at that time (1660s) as the tea was imported from China. While living in Woburn Abbey, Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the first person to have transformed afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal rather than a simple refreshment. It all began back in the mid 1800s, when she started having a tray of tea with bread and butter served to her in the mid-afternoon. This is because lunch was served at noon but dinner was not eaten until 8 or even 9 o'clock at night. The Duchess found herself hungry during those long afternoon hours. Anyway, soon she began to invite other high-society ladies to join her and very quickly having Afternoon Tea became the 'in-thing' for the upper-class women. Along with the tea, there would be small pastries with clotted cream or preserves, delicate sandwiches, and scones. "Low Tea" was the original term given to the afternoon teas created by the Duchess.

Afternoon tea is therefore a light meal typically eaten between 3pm and 5pm. Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a teapot and served in teacups with milk and sugar.

Lady Fredericks mentions in her diaries in 1866, that ladies met and discussed ‘tea business’, the female equivalent of men discussing politics, thereby giving women a social outlet to discuss topics such as politics etc which were deemed unsuitable for women to discuss in mixed company.Source

Today, afternoon tea around the world is often accompanied by cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon sandwiches, scones (with clotted cream and jam) and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg, fruit cake or Victoria sponge).

The food is often served on a tiered stand; there may be no sandwiches, but bread or scones with butter or margarine and optional jam or other spread.

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz

Tea time around the world!

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz

These days, a formal afternoon tea is, nowadays, usually taken as a treat in a hotel, café or tea shop.

In everyday life, many British take a much simpler refreshment consisting of tea and biscuits at teatime.

Tea Time around the world via Natasha in Oz
Tea and biscuits at my place, Brisbane, Australia!

Many people use the term "High Tea" to describe "Afternoon tea" but High Tea is quite different. It was actually served later (around six in the evening) and consisted of a full, dinner meal for the common people. Source

On farms or other working class environments, high tea would be the traditional, substantial meal eaten by the workers immediately after nightfall, and would combine afternoon tea with the main evening meal. Tea was still served, but there would also be meats, fish or eggs, cheese, bread and butter, and sometimes, cake.

Who would have thought that the word "Tea" could mean so many different things to so many people around the world? Whatever the word means for us, I am sure that we would agree that Henry James was definitely correct when he said that

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the
ceremony known as afternoon tea. 

If you have shared any decorating ideas lately why not share them at tomorrow's Say G'day Saturday Linky Party!

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Best wishes until next time,

Natasha In Oz 

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