Within the first few months of working at Ahmad Tea, I had the privilege of meeting graphic designer and tea enthusiast, Lady Sippington (the alter ego of English expat, Nina Daryanani, named by her friends and family after her constant talking about and drinking of tea). Before meeting her, I was already enamored with her very proper and traditionally English approach to afternoon tea from visiting her pretty website that showcases her love for hosting tea. I have to admit that I was quite nervous to meet her for the first time. What do I wear? How should I speak? And more importantly – will she judge me based on how I steep my tea?
On the contrary, when we met, at the brilliant The London Candy Company on the Upper East Side (where Nina was overjoyed to find Tunnock’s Teacakes), I did not feel judged at all, but rather embraced as a new student. It was such a relaxed and pleasant experience that I was already looking forward to meeting again soon.
While I was on a business trip in Mexico, I was thrilled to receive an email from Lady Sippington inviting me to her home for afternoon tea. I was so excited I accepted immediately, of course. She was kind enough to meet me at Grand Central. From there, we took the train together to her home, just a short distance away from Manhattan. On the train, we discussed the “evolution” of tea, especially in the U.S. We also talked about how David’s Tea has grown in popularity so quickly and whether or not the next generation of tea drinkers craves the fun tisanes and herbal blends over a traditional Earl Grey or Darjeeling.
Once we arrived at Lady Sippington’s home, she showed me around. Her kitchen was filled with a huge variety of tea in colorful tins, including Ahmad Tea. Everywhere I looked, there were hints of tea time – a stack of books with a beautiful teacup on top, elegant silver teapots, and a book entitled, The Book of Tea, displayed on the mantlepiece. I was in a tea-time fairyland.
In the kitchen, Lady Sippington was making cucumber sandwiches, preparing scones, and brewing the tea. We decided to begin with a pot of jasmine green tea followed by a cup of Earl Grey. Lady Sippington offered several tips on creating the perfect afternoon tea. For example, the best way to keep your cucumber sandwiches from drying out is to cover them tightly with a damp paper towel before serving them. She also explained the difference between “high tea” and “afternoon tea.” (In its simplest terms, “high tea” is typically served at a higher table, while “afternoon tea” is served at a lower table, like a coffee table).
Our afternoon tea setting was nothing less than perfect! Beautiful teaware – check. Warm scones – check. Cloth napkins – check. And for an added touch – matching white tulips. As we sipped our tea, I asked all of my “how to” questions, such as, “what is the proper way to eat a scone?” When eating a scone at a low table, Lady Sippington recommends breaking it up into smaller pieces with your fingers and adding the cream and jam to each piece before enjoying. That way the other guests can be passed the cream and jam pots. At a high table, you may wish to use the knife provided.
However, the biggest lesson I learned was that afternoon tea is an experience and one should truly enjoy and relish the moment. It’s a great excuse to relax and catch up with friends and is much easier than hosting an entire dinner (still a challenge for me). I plan to invest in some charming teacups and saucers and accessories to host my own afternoon tea. My multi-use mugs just won’t cut it anymore. Who would have thought that there could be so many “do’s” and “don’ts” for tea? But there’s no harm in asking and, as Lady Sippington taught me, it’s always fun. I’m curious. Do any of the readers out there host afternoon tea? I’d love to see pictures and learn of any other tips or suggestions.