Tuesday, November 20, 2012

F.S. ~ 'Tis the Season for Tea

Hot tea, that is!

    In the South, iced sweet tea is a necessary part of life, but as the days grow colder, we begin to put the kettle on for hot tea a bit more often. 

    The small and quaint neighborhood I grew up in was just outside town. Our next door neighbor was an authentic English-born gentlewoman straight from the pages of an Austen novel. Friendly and enchanting, she kept a cookie jar for her frequent guests who dropped in for tea. Occasionally we would go to her house and find her seated alone at her kitchen table overlooking her tiny garden "taking her tea." My mother took tea with her a few times, and I was always delighted by the ritual. A dainty teacup filled with steaming tea somehow adds a poetic touch to any setting.
    A few things to keep in mind as you fill the kettle in preparation for tea time:
  • There are differing opinions of how a teacup should be held. Pinkies up or not? Most commonly it is said that "pinkies up" is bad manners and one should follow the example of Elizabeth Bennet.
  • When tea is served at the table, the teacup can be a part of the table setting and will appear to the right of the knife and spoon and just below the other cups. Often tea is served with dessert and the cups are then brought to the table when dessert appears. 

  • The hostess is responsible for pouring the tea if it is served in a pot on the table. When the hostess or waiter does not pour the pot, the person closest to it should offer to pour and should fill his or her cup last. 
  • It is not polite to dunk unless in a coffee shop setting. 
  • When stirring your tea, try not to let the spoon hit the sides and cause noise.
  • Just as with soup, never slurp your tea and never blow it to cool it off.
  • When your tea bag has finished steeping, you should remove it and let it drip before placing it on the saucer or other plate. Do not squeeze the bag with your fingers or spoon. Emily Post suggests placing your tea bag in the pot, if possible, to avoid the messiness.

This only scratches the surface of the long tradition and etiquette of hot tea. Hot tea has a vast history and has been associated with everyone from nobles and aristocrats to humble peasants. No matter the place, the time, or the social setting, sipping tea from a beautifully embellished teacup is a pleasure worth experiencing.

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