Last week I met for Afternoon Tea with two friends, Sharon and Pamela. We met at Sealantro British Café located in Vero Beach, Florida, each dressed in a chic and summery outfit for our gathering.
Welcoming us to the Café, the owner, Jayne, dressed comparably, escorted us to our corner table which was set beautifully. Overseeing the table was a life-size cut-out of the late Queen Elizabeth, dressed impeccably, of course! Jayne poured us Champagne and told us that when you begin afternoon tea with Champagne/Prosecco it is then called “Royal Tea” or simply referred to as “Champagne Tea.”
Many people refer to Cream Tea and Afternoon Tea as High Tea. This is generally a misinterpretation of how the tradition of Afternoon Tea evolved. While the Duchess of Bedford (the attributed creator of Afternoon Tea) was entertaining her friends at a “low” table with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries in the afternoon, her servants were hoping she would finish soon and leave some scones. They would finish work and sit down to their tea at a “high” table. The meal would consist of a hot dish, a pot of tea and something sweet. High Tea was traditionally taken later in the evening, around 6:00 PM.
Our Afternoon Tea consisted of a three-tiered tray of savory and sweet delicacies. From bottom to top it included: finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets. That afternoon I learned that you partake of each tier from the bottom up. That made sense given that the beautiful edible art in the form of desserts was on top. I had to control my temptation to dive first into the top tier!
The bottom tier of finger sandwiches consisted of organic egg salad, coronation chicken, cucumber and Irish butter, and roast beef with house-made tomato jam. My favorite was the coronation chicken. It was sweet and savory; given the pieces of chicken were blended in a mildly spiced curry mixture with chopped apricots.
The middle tier included cheddar cheese scones and Bailey’s Irish Cream & chocolate chip scones served along with jam and Devonshire clotted cream. Here my favorite was the cheddar cheese scone where the bits of cheese were melted into a buttery scone. The exterior of the scone was especially delicious, as the bits of cheddar were crispy. I will admit that I topped that scone with an unladylike dollop of clotted cream and savored each bite.
The top tier beautifully displayed petite sweets. They included French macarons, chocolate petits fours, and a delicate chocolate shell filled with a vanilla pastry cream garnished with edible lavender buds. It’s almost impossible for me to select my favorite sweet on this tier. Each one melted in my mouth with great taste sensations, including various textures, some creamy, while others were slightly chewy.
Lastly, we were served a slice of Victoria Sponge Cake. This traditional British layer cake is made up of two feather-light buttery sponge cake layers that sandwich a thick layer of raspberry jam and whipped cream. At this point in service, I was already full. So, a bite was had, and I asked for a box to travel.
Oh, of course all of this was enjoyed with a pot of loose-leaf tea. From an impressive selection I chose China Rose. This tea is made from whole dried petals and flower buds of the rose flower. The tea has a mildly sweet and fruity taste. Its delicate flavor worked very well with the accompaniments we were served.
The ritual of Afternoon Tea is in itself a picturesque combination of tea and food, set on a table laden with fine china and linens, along with fresh flowers. We spent two hours talking, sharing, and laughing. This gathering of friends was heartwarming and memorable.
“A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.” (according to Mary Lou Heiss, an American tea connoisseur, historian and author) I couldn’t agree more!