An Appreciation for Irish Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea or high tea is a lavish affair that is steeped (pun intended) in tradition in Europe. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, popularized afternoon tea in 1840. Suffering from “hunger spells” (aka being hangry) because the break between lunch and dinner was too long, she decided to have a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake be brought out in early afternoon. Being a part of the aristocracy, this soon became en vogue and found its way to being a pillar of English high society. Modern afternoon tea is still similar to when it was first established, although it doesn’t necessarily have to have all the pomp and circumstance. It still involves pots of delicious tea, trays of scones and Devonshire cream, and platters of finger sandwiches. Some even top it off with a glass of champagne, which is my favorite add on. Luckily it is gaining popularity Stateside so we Americans can partake in this wonderful experience.
The first afternoon tea I attended was when I was staying with an old friend who moved to Ireland. The Irish have a true appreciation for tea that I long for here in the States. Every morning, noon, and night friends gathered in her kitchen to put on the kettle and have a cup of tea. Sometimes it was just the two of us; other times it was ten of her friends squeezed around the kitchen table that only had enough room for six. But like clockwork, the kettle would go off at the unspoken yet designated teatimes everyday. Fittingly, Irish Breakfast was the favorite among the crowd. Some took theirs with milk and a sugar cube, others with a spoon of honey and a squirt of lemon, and some just plain. I decided to go with the traditional Irish method of milk and 2 sugar cubes.
I was fascinated by how everyone took a few minutes out of their day at some point to chat and laugh with friends. Coming from the fast paced Tri-State area, the Irish’s commitment to taking a step back and connecting with friends felt unfamiliar. But really, that is what tea is all about and is one of the reasons why I love it so much. I came into my friend’s house as a stranger to her friends and left learning so much about everyone.
My friend already knew I had a penchant for tea so when she saw how much I was enjoying the informal tea and chats with her friends, she suggested we go to afternoon tea at a posh hotel in the heart of Dublin. I had never even been to a tea party and wasn’t sure what to expect but was extremely excited to have a new tea themed experience.
We arrived at the hotel and were ushered into a regal looking room in the back. It was everything one would think of when they pictured afternoon tea — there was classical music being played on a piano, floor to ceiling windows draped in heavy curtains, elegant upholstered furniture, servers clad in formalwear. We arrived at our table and our chairs were pulled out for us and our napkins were placed on our laps. I remember being in awe of the luxury of it all. It was definitely not my typical tea experience.
Our waiter, donned in white gloves, handed me the tea menu. I ran my finger down the list of teas trying to decide which to choose — each looked better than the next! The tea I ended up selecting was called Irish Whiskey Cream. It was a black tea that was wonderfully malty, chocolaty, and creamy. It was full bodied and warm, smooth and slightly sweet—and it had all of those flavors without adding any milk or sugar. It was the perfect contrast to the cold, cloudy spring day that we decided to venture out on. I remember taking the first sip and instantly was searching on my phone where I could buy more to take back with me. A bit of a faux pas but I couldn’t help myself—the tea was amazingly delicious and I knew that being able to drink it when I was at home in the States would bring me back to the great memories I created with my friend in Ireland. Luckily I can now get my fix without having to fly tea from Ireland with this Cream tea.
Soon trays of tiny finger sandwiches and scones appeared to accompany our tea. My friend and I picked at the food, sipped our teas, and had a long overdue chat. We hadn’t seen each other in three years and had a lot to catch up on. We talked about what we had been up to, what university was like in different countries, how post university life was. We laughed so hard that we started crying while reminiscing about memories from high school. Once again, tea was fostering connections as it has done for countless others for hundreds of years. By the end of the afternoon, it felt like the three years apart never happened. We finished off what was left of the tea and sandwiches and headed out. Tired from a full day of sight seeing and eating, we went back to her apartment. We opened the front door and headed straight to the kitchen, which was filled with laughter from her friends. We sat down and shouted for the kettle to be put on for all of us; it was teatime again.