Monday, November 14, 2005

Will You Come To My Tea Party?

Childhood tea parties with ones dolls and friends were just so delightful. Weren't they? Not only did you get to have all your dollies around you, but you also got to play dress-up, too. I can remember having tea parties as a child. Sometimes it was just my dollies and me, but that was okay. They were always great company. I'd serve my dollies tea in one of my tea sets. They would carry on about this or that. We'd have a grand old time.

As a matter of fact, I still have the three different tea sets that my Grandmother and Mother gave me as a child. One is very, very tiny china pieces. One is made of royal blue glass, and one is white and gold bone china. A couple of the bone china handles are broken, but other than that the sets are still in good shape. I take them out from time to time. They always remind me of a time of pure innocence.

In fact, when I was a child my mother started giving me a different bone china tea cup and saucer every year for about ten years or so. The trend back then was to have a bunch of beautiful and delicate cups and saucers to use when you had your friends over for tea. Of course, I couldn't use them until I was an adult. I still have them and they are still very pretty and very delicate.

No matter how hard I tried, and how much I begged I could never get my older brother (who is only 10 months older than me) to have a tea party with me. He just wouldn't. He always said "I hate dolls." In fact, he still hates dolls. How can anyone hate dolls? It boggles my mind. I can't even get him to visit my Linda Walsh Originals website or read my Linda's Blog. He thinks they're only about dolls. Boys! Men! Who can explain the illogical way they think! In any event, my sister, when she was old enough, was always willing to have a tea party with me. And, of course, there were always my dollies willing to so as well.

Maybe my love of little girl tea parties explains my love of tea. I love having several cups of tea in the morning and several cups of tea in the afternoon. It's always very relaxing. I've decided that I would have been well suited for the Victorian tradition of afternoon teas. I could attend a Victorian afternoon tea party and wear a beautiful Victorian dress. Why not? I love the dresses and I love tea. My problem would be when I opened my mouth to speak. I don't think they cared for feminist viewpoints back then.

Oh, well! In thinking about all this my usual curiosity got the better of me and I began to wonder "How did this all begin and what exactly were the rules for a Victorian Afternoon Tea Reception?"

Tea was introduced into Britain around 1650, was very expensive, and available only to the very wealthy (of course). Tea gradually become more and more popular and less expensive. It was viewed as a refreshing non-alcoholic alternative to ale. It was thought that tea cured headaches, fevers, colds, dropsy and scurvy. Some of the first tea brews were spread on bread and eaten. Others were brewed in a cup with butter and salt added. Yuck! What a way to kill a perfectly good cup of tea!

In the town houses and country homes of the rich it was fashionable to take tea after meals. Women would retire to the Drawing Room after dinner and would enjoy tea and coffee. The men stayed at the table and drank port wine (probably discussing the important issues of the day. No wait. That was done by the women in the Drawing Room!). As the tea trade increased and the prices went down tea became a popular drink for both the rich and the poor. By the mid 1800's the coffee houses of London were centers of tea and conversation attracting all the notable men. You notice I said "men." Women weren't allowed to frequent such establishments (gosh, they might get corrupted) and as a result began to invite each other over to each others homes.

Afternoon tea became fashionable during the early part of the 19th century and was usually served around 4 o'clock. At first it was kind of "risque" for the ladies to "take afternoon tea" in their private sitting rooms or boudoirs. After all, the men were in their "coffee houses." Then, around 1850 as afternoon tea receptions grew in popularity, they were moved to the Drawing Room. Both ladies and gentlemen were invited to attend then, but it was usually ladies in attendance. At least the ladies had the good manners to invite the men to their afternoon teas. The "afternoon teas" soon became the focus of social visits and an "afternoon tea etiquette" was established which involved a complex set of rules. Of course there were rules of etiquette! We're talking about the Victorians here.

The lady of the house would hold an "at home" party on a set day of the month. Visiting cards were sent out and included details as to what to expect and prepare for. Ladies usually dressed formally and wore hats and gloves. Sometimes the Victorian women would bring their own tea cups wrapped in special boxes. Whatever was required of the guests was clearly communicated in the visiting card so as not to embarrass the guest.

The creation of the cup & saucer occurred at this time, as did cream & milk jugs, sugar bowls, tea caddies, tea kettles, dishes, plates, teaspoons, and teapots. China was used for intimate teas. Silver tea pots were used for formal teas.

There were two distinct forms of tea service: "high" and "low" tea. "Low" tea or "Afternoon Tea" was served in the aristocratic homes of the wealthy in mid-afternoon. It featured gourmet appetizers to eat while engaging in polite conversation. "High" tea was a main or "meat" meal of the day. It was a family evening meal in the homes of the middle classes and working families and consisted mostly of dinner or supper items such as meat pies, vegetables, bread and butter, cakes, and a pot of tea.

According to the rules of etiquette, only simple refreshments should be served at an afternoon tea. Thin slices of bread and butter, sandwiches, fancy biscuits or cake, tea, coffee, or chocolate, ice-cream and bouillon. Punch and lemonade could also be served, but no wine or alcoholic beverages.

As the afternoon tea was considered an "informal" event the hostess would shake hands with her guests. If the number of guests was small the hostess would walk around the room and talk with her visitors. She would also, pour the tea and make sure everyone's cup was always full. If the number of guests was large the hostess would remain at the door and other ladies would help entertain the guests. She would also ask some of her friends if they would serve as a "pourer" of the tea at their table.

When drinking a cup of tea, the rules of etiquette say "keep your pinkie down" for to extend one's pinkie was an indication of arrogance, an inflated self-importance and was considered very rude. Also, you should always lift both the cup and saucer to your mouth. And, do not let the saucer sit on the table alone (god forbid, if you do you might cut struck by lightning). If you add milk to your tea it should be added first, then the tea should be poured in. A lemon slice or sugar should always be added last. When stirring your tea, you shouldn't make noises by clinging the sides of the cup while stirring. Remember, in Victorian times "ladies" did not bring attention to themselves. Never leave your spoon in the cup and do not sip your tea from the spoon either. That would be scandalous! After stirring, the spoon should be placed quietly on the saucer next to the cup, on the right hand side under the handle.

Afternoon tea parties usually lasted for two hours or so. When leaving the tea party guests were always expected to thank the hostess and a proper thank you note was always sent afterwards. To not thank the hostess was considered rude and would probably exclude you from attending tea parties in the future.

Now that you know the rules of etiquette for an afternoon tea party I have a question for you. "Will you come to my tea party?" I promise my dollies won't criticize you for having your pinkie up! 


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:03 PM

    Finally Linda, in print, proof of what I have always told my dear hubby!! I have been a long partaker of MIF (milk in First) but, alas he was a MIL (milk in Last), finally after a decade of gentle beligering he has conformed...perhaps I might not show him, I could stir up old memories!!