Afternoon Tea / by Eric Monteiro

“Tea would arrive, the cakes squatting on cushions of cream, toast in a melting shawl of butter, cups agleam and a faint wisp of steam rising from the teapot shawl.” 
― Gerald DurrellMy Family and Other Animals

A sumptuous spread from a recent Afternoon Tea Birthday celebration catered by Thierry Isambert Culinary and Event Design, coordinated by Caron Cole.

A sumptuous spread from a recent Afternoon Tea Birthday celebration catered by Thierry Isambert Culinary and Event Design, coordinated by Caron Cole.

 Afternoon tea celebrations are the perfect occasion for the most marvelous, diverse spreads, including plates of savory light bites next to irresistible sweet treats. For baby and wedding showers, or special birthday celebrations, consider a traditional (or not so traditional) afternoon tea.

Speaking of a less traditional afternoon tea, your celebration may very well include plenty of champagne to toast the occasion, but let that be in addition to a sumptuous, classic high tea spread which should feature the most refined quality teas offering exquisite bouquets of aroma and taste.

Thierry Isambert Culinary and Event Design’s Executive Sous Chef, Michael Finizia, prefers Monkey Picked Oolong Tea, also known as Black Dragon Pearl, which comes from the Tie Guan Yin plant. Why “Monkey Picked?” Well, legend has it that monkeys were trained by monks to pick the choicest leaves from wild trees growing in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province. The monkey picked tea was gifted to Emperor Qian Long in 1741, and the tea, with its smooth, bright, floral-buttery aroma and clean, refreshing finish, was originally a delicacy reserved for the Imperial Court.

Today Monkey Picked Oolong, or Dragon Pearl, is widely enjoyed by those with a refined taste for high quality tea and, of course, it is no longer picked by monkeys! The leaves are harvested in the Spring and Fall from higher elevations than the other Tie Guan Yin grades, and the tea is hand crafted by small family artisans.

Decorative center piece from an Afternoon Tea Birthday Celebration catered by Thierry Isambert Culinary and Event Design

Do remember to treat your tea with LOVE! By this I mean that each tea comes with different recommendations for the perfect time and temperature for steeping. Chef Michael Finizia recommends the gong fu method, which is the most refined method of brewing tea, using lots of loose leaf, multiple infusions and brief steeping times to enhance the fine flavors.  

Chef Michael emphasizes that there is no limit to the food you can offer your guests for an afternoon, or high tea. How about small triangles of tea sandwiches, such as cucumber, curried chicken, Boursin or Smoked Salmon on Pumpernickel? Mini Quiches, followed by Fruit Tarts, Macaroons and Petit Fours. Don’t forget the three tiered tray brimming with freshly baked pastries, including English Scones served with butter, jam and whipped cream, muffins and mini-cupcakes. In fact, you can incorporate just about anything from Empanadas to Asian Dim Sum, just don’t call it lunch!

Last but not least, be wildly creative with your décor. This is an opportunity to bring out the antique porcelain china, grandma’s wedgewood tea set and fine silver milk jug with matching sugar pot. Remember to be generous with bright floral arrangements to delight your guests.

English literature is replete with references to High Tea and Afternoon Tea, many quotes are so perfectly described one can almost taste the delicacies! We opened with a quote from British author Gerald Durrell, so it seems only appropriate to sign off with a few lines by English author and playwright, Daphne du Maurier:

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.” 
― Daphne du MaurierRebecca