This week at T-Ching, we are examining the tea ceremony. Monday’s post by Lisa Dong examined the aspect of romance in the ceremony. On Tuesday, Derek Chew provided an analysis of the tea ceremony as an inclusion into the wedding ceremony. Today, I will share the differences between high tea and afternoon tea in England, as well as providing an overview of the American Tea Ceremony.
In Great Britain, afternoon tea is a formal gathering of friends for tea and a light snack. High tea is a full meal of several courses, served with tea. Despite the differences in the fare provided, there are a few rules of etiquette to be observed involving the presentation of the tea, and appropriate attire and behavior expected of guests. First, we’ll look at afternoon tea.
The afternoon tea is more formal than high tea. The hostess provides cream, sugar, and lemon wedges for her guests. Even if you are certain that few – or no one – will use these condiments, they must be available in their attractive serving dishes in case one decides to be daring. The cup is placed to the guest’s right – unless he or she is left-handed – so that the server never has to lean over the guest to refresh the cup. The handle of the cup should be placed toward the guest so that it is easily grasped. Guests should observe those table manners painfully taught to us as children: hands in your lap – no elbows on the table; use your napkin to brush crumbs away – no licking of lips; don’t talk with your mouth full; and refrain from slurping or making any other noise while you are enjoying your repast. Turn off your cellphone. Ask permission before leaving the table.
High tea embraces all the cautions above, but be prepared for a full meal of several courses. For both of these tea events, there is a dress code which guests should observe. For both male and female guests: leave the ripped jeans, t-shirts, and flip flops in the closet. Do wear nice slacks, a shirt/blouse with a collar – or a nice sweater, and closed-toed shoes. Running shoes or sneakers should be avoided. If you choose to wear a dress, wear a simple day dress that is neither too short nor too revealing. Your clothing choice for this event is not to make a personal statement. It is a gesture of respect for your host and yourself.
Researching for this post, I was surprised to learn that there is an American Tea Ceremony. This ceremony begins with a blessing of thankfulness for the journey the tea has made from field to cup, from those who plant and harvest to those who pick and process, to those who steep and serve it, the people behind the tea are appreciated. Embracing and celebrating America’s rich tapestry of immigrants, this ceremony is all about the tea. Tea is the center and the focus of the ritual. Dry leaves are examined; the tea is prepared and served in clear glass pots, glasses, and cups. Each participant savors the tea through several steepings, after which the wet leaves are placed in a white bowl for guests to touch and inhale the fragrance.
From the American Tea Ceremony website linked above: “Besides the many health benefits tea has to offer, ‘making time for tea’ can improve the quality of your life and those around you, especially your children. The ceremony is a venue for expressing appreciation, love, and respect for one another. Because it is experiential, one may only realize its benefits after sitting down at the table to share your thoughts and feelings with others for some meaningful camaraderie, stimulating conversation, and an extremely satisfying cup of tea.”
The American tea ceremony is less about etiquette than it is about the spirituality of the tea-drinking experience. Tomorrow’s post will take a look at the Japanese Tea Ceremony, a very different ritual and focus. Stay tuned!