Afternoon Tea: What could be more English?
Afternoon tea is one of those occasions that we all look forward to even if you are not an ardent tea lover. Is it the time to relax and have a soothing cup of tea that lifts you a little towards the end of the afternoon? Is it the opportunity to eat and drink in a different room such as the sitting room and unwind in comfortable seats or even to relax outside? It’s still warm enough at the end of October!
Whatever Afternoon tea is to you it is definitely an institution where only tea can be drunk. Even my children are asking for it at this time of day. I just need to work on them having it without sugar – not just for the sake of their teeth! Food to go with tea at this time of day instantly brings to mind cake, biscuits, sandwiches and scones with jam but I think these are more typical of a Sunday afternoon rather than every day. Furthermore, there are many savoury foods beyond what the Earl of Sandwich suggests that equally or better go with tea – just ask the Chinese! Think of pork dim sum, deep fried fish or spicy Szechuan food.
Traditional flavoured teas whether green or black
Tea that can accompany these foods can go well beyond the typical pot of jasmine which is often served in a British Chinese restaurant. Not to knock it: fragrant, light jasmine used to flavour fresh green tea can be a real delight. There are several grades available and the better ones can be exquisite. Remember to make any green tea with water that has come off the boil for a couple of minutes to avoid bitterness and do not infuse for more than three minutes. There are several other pure green teas to try at tea-time such as Chun Mee, Tian Mu Quing Ding or our new, subtle Jin Zhu Mao Jian. Beyond jasmine, there are other traditional Chinese flavoured green teas such as magnolia and rose, the latter more commonly made with black tea, known as Rose Congou.
Tea in the afternoon would not be fully explored without mentioning Earl Grey. Our traditional blend, based upon light Keemun and Darjeeling teas flavoured with natural oil of bergamot and named after my ancestor has long been popular. Drink it without milk. We offer one based on green tea too which has a loyal following. There are many other teas with added natural flavours. Orange with spices, lemon, mango, blackcurrant or traditional Indian Masala Chai . Explore them to your heart’s desire!
Smoky or complex?
So which black teas should be drunk with afternoon tea? Of course there is an afternoon blend – our ‘Good afternoon’ contains a little of that moreish and smoky lapsang souchong which goes so well with marmite on toast or toasted teacakes. Or there is the attractive complexity of Russian Caravan which has a little oolong. It is based on China teas and will successfully accompany many cakes. Pure lapsang ouchongs can vary in smokiness and complexity. We have a good example from Taiwan (Formosa) as well as those from China’s Fujian Province. Drink them without milk and try them if you haven’t. They are perfect with smoked salmon sandwiches!
Winey or fragrant?
If you like fruit cakes then China Keemun teas have that lovely winey character that explains why they are known as the ‘Burgundy of teas’. Perfect with Christmas cake! Better still, there are several grades to choose from with varying depths of body such as Hoa Ya A and B to the fuller bodied Mao Feng, the beautifully smooth Jhin Hao and the less expensive Keemun Peony.
Ceylon teas have long been appreciated at tea-time for their floral quality. They can vary considerably from light Uvas to full bodied Dimbulas such as Kenilworth which may be drunk with milk. Nuwara Eliyas are noted for their intense flavour are less well known but are greatly admired by those who love Ceylon teas. Some people appreciate a strong malty cup of tea, even in the afternoon, and therefore I would recommend a good second flush Assam. These are noted for their malty character but they need not have excessive body. Indeed, we have an Assam first flush, Sree Sibbari, which is best drunk without milk.
Darjeeling is the quintessential afternoon tea and its light, muscatel character explains why it is known as the ‘Champagne of teas’. From brisk first flushes to smoother, more full bodied second flushes, Darjeeling teas should be drunk without milk and are less well suited to accompany any but the lightest of foods such as homemade biscuits. As an alternative, you could try Nepalese teas which are produced close to the more famous Darjeeling gardens. Many are a real delight in the afternoon.
Oolong teas are better suited to an evening meal due to their complexity. White teas are best late at night as they are so subtle and are best without food.
As you can now see, there are several types of tea, whether black tea or green tea that are ideal for drinking in the afternoon. Some are well suited to particular foods, or no food at all, and just savoured for their individuality. What is certain is that there are many teas which suit food, so much so that tea is increasingly used as an ingredient whether in cakes or sauces for savoury foods not intended to be eaten in the afternoon! Afternoon tea does however give you an ideal excuse to try a new tea whether it’s a traditional black tea, healthy green tea or blended tea.
Read the descriptions of each category of tea in our Tea Store.
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