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December 07, 2016
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The warmth of a cup of tea; Giving a tea party

Photos by Lisa DeNardo

By Lisa DeNardo

Imagine yourself on a leisurely drive through the winding countryside of South Wales. You pass luscious green rolling hills speckled with woolly sheep and patches of lush woodland. This journey ends down in a deep valley, complete with a river running through it, at a stately home built somewhere around 1810. You make your way up to the beautiful home past the stables and horses, and find yourself sitting in the conservatory in the center of the large house. The conservatory is filled with beautiful plants, where the sunlight pours in through the many windows to warm your soul. This memory was one of many shared by Christine San Jose, who has “84 years’ experience in high tea.”

Christine San Jose is a British native and grew up with the “duty to king and country to drink tea every day.” On that particular day, San Jose recalls sitting in this very conservatory with her friend when a three-tiered tea trolley was rolled in with “oodles of tea.” She enjoyed scones with rhubarb and damson preserves, English digestive biscuits, slices of ham, salad, as well as “good” bread and butter. It was a moment in time that remained with her all these years.

Traditionally, high tea was eaten in the early evening, around 5 or 6 p.m. and included much more than just a cup of tea. It was a substantial meal, equivalent to supper that originated in England. Delicious sweet foods, such as scones, cakes, buns, or tea breads were combined with tempting more savory foods, such as cheese on toast, toasted crumpets, cold meats and pickles or poached eggs on toast and, of course, plenty of tea.

High tea was historically much more of a working-class family meal than it was an elite social gathering. In England the working class made up the majority of the population and there was great pride to be amongst the working class. The “high” in high tea does not imply that fancy, high-class, or expensive foods are served (or that high tea is enjoyed by well-to-do Britons). It actually refers to afternoon tea served on a dining room table (a high table) as opposed to afternoon tea served on a “tea table” (a low table). By contrast, afternoon tea is traditionally served around 4 p.m. This is a lighter meal a satisfying “snack” between lunch and dinner that will include scones, thin sandwiches, biscuits, and assorted cakes.