Category Archives: Tea

Tea recommendations, afternoon tea recaps, etc.

A Tea for Spring

Years ago I hosted a few afternoon teas at our old house. The budget was very tight back then, and I’ve never been much of a cook, so none of those events felt like a proper tea. At some point I figured if I couldn’t do it right, I shouldn’t do it at all.

Recently, however, I’ve felt the desire to try again. I decided it would be okay if I “outsourced” the most intimidating items on the menu and gave myself plenty of time to plan and practice the other recipes. Turns out all that planning and testing was rather fun!

Some photos from the big day:


My 10+ years of collecting teacups came in handy because each guest could pick a favorite.


This photo brings back mouth-watering memories! I do believe the scones were the pièce de résistance of the tea. (Find the recipe and discussion of cream/jam at this blog post.)


Here you see the savories and sweets. I had intended to make mini-croissant sandwiches with a curry chicken salad & mango chutney from Whole Foods (outsourcing!), but sadly they were having difficulty obtaining the chutney. Instead I bought regular chicken salad and added bits of fresh mango. (Fine, but not great.) The mini-quiches were rather good, if I do say so myself, and quite easy to make (see recipe). The cucumber sandwiches, on the other hand, were somewhat tragic. I wanted to make a truly English sort of sandwich, with thinly sliced cucumber on heavily buttered bread (based on these directions), but the flavor was rather bland and the sandwiches seemed determined to fall apart. I’m afraid the cucumber slices became a little slimy, too. Ugh! Let us speak of it no further.

For the sweet course, I made frosted gluten-free cookies, but the rest of the items were store-bought. I found the Linzer torte cookies at Homegoods (!) and they were very fresh, tasty, and gluten-free. The chocolates came from Apple Tree Chocolate, a local shop. I had very high expectations for the chocolate-orange tea biscuits from Fortnum & Mason; sadly they were just so-so. (Perhaps they lost some of their freshness during the long journey to the states?)


The tea pairings required a bit of pondering, and in the end I was quite pleased with my choices. To go along with the scones and cream/jam/lemon curd, I chose Fortnum & Mason’s Afternoon Blend “from the higher and lower regions of Ceylon” (and easy to find at Williams-Sonoma) because it stood up quite well to all that sweetness. With the savory course I paired Mariage Frères’ Pleine Lune, a more delicate tea flavored with almond and sweet spices. And for the sweet course I chose Tea Palace’s Notting Hill, “a blend of the finest single estate black teas enriched with real pieces of organic Bourbon Vanilla from Madagascar and flashes of gold Marigold petal.” The overwhelming favorite of the three teas? The Pleine Lune.

Do you have any favorite afternoon tea recipes to share? If so, please link in the comments–I’d love to add your suggestions to my “Tea Party” Pinterest page. I’m already dreaming up the menu for the next Afternoon Tea…

March Tea and a Book: A School for Brides

Patrice Kindl’s A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony is a delightful romp for fans of quirky characters and unusual conflicts, not to mention all things Regency. It’s a companion to an earlier favorite of mine from Kindl, Keeping the Castle, a much lauded novel about a young lady who must marry well in order to support her family. You really should read both, but I don’t think it matters which you choose first.

The official blurb for A School for Brides:

The Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, has one goal: to train its students in the feminine arts with an eye toward getting them married off. This year, there are five girls of marriageable age. There’s only one problem: the school is in the middle of nowhere, and there are no men. Set in the same English town as Keeping the Castle, and featuring a few of the same characters, here’s the kind of witty tribute to the classic Regency novel that could only come from the pen of Patrice Kindl!

Kindl is such an entertaining storyteller. I will warn you, however, that there are many characters, some with similar names. A handy character guide is provided at the beginning of the book, but if you tend toward e-readers–as I do with my increasingly wonky vision–it may prove difficult to consult that list. (It’s very likely, however, that you understand better how to navigate back and forth through your e-reader than I do!)

At any rate, I highly recommend both Keeping the Castle and A School for Brides, and I’ve heard there may be a third book set in Lesser Hoo. Oh, let it be true!

Now for a lovely cream tea . . .

Conveniently for this post, I’ve been testing recipes for a small afternoon tea I’m hosting next month. (Me? Organized enough to test the recipes? It’s a miracle!)


I tried a new-to-me scone recipe–this one from Allrecipes–and it was pretty straightforward for making traditional round scones that split easily. I used a cookie cutter from this Williams-Sonoma set, only mine had crinkled edges. Apparently the key is to cut swiftly and forcefully with a straight up-and-down motion. No side-to-side cutting or twisting of the cutter lest the scone droop to one side during baking.


As you can see, my scones rose nicely without too much drooping. And they split easily–no need for a knife! For more tips and tricks you might consult “How to Make the Perfect Scone” from both The Prepared Pantry and The Guardian.


For a proper English tea you need strawberry jam and clotted cream. As you can see, the jam came from Fortnum & Mason, which seems perfectly appropriate for a Regency story since they were established in 1707. (Ooh, look — here’s a blog post that includes details about about F&M in the Regency period!) Those not currently living in England can order online from F&M as long as you’re willing to pay international shipping. Another option for Americans is to peruse their products offered in Williams-Sonoma shops and online. But what about clotted cream? In England you can buy it at any grocery store; in the states, however, it can be tricky to find. I actually ordered mine from Amazon.com but it also can be found at The English Tea Store. Just keep in mind that it needs to stay cool, so mail-ordering in the hottest months might not be the best idea.


And here’s my little tea spread, complete with the Afternoon Blend from Fortnum & Mason (“a blend from the higher and lower regions of Ceylon delivering a light, refreshing flavour with real body”). As I’ve mentioned before, there’s some controversy over whether one should first spread ones scone with cream or jam. (I even blogged about this once.) But really, it’s entirely up to you!

Happy reading and Afternoon Tea-ing!

Tea with Miss Marple

Over the last several months I re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Miss Jane Marple. What a delight! In addition I introduced myself to the Joan Hickson TV adaptations (most excellent) and revisited nearly all of the Geraldine McEwan and Julia Mckenzie versions that were canon Miss Marple. Might you indulge me as I share a few favorites?

Favorite book: I keep changing my mind on this one, but at the moment I think it might be A Pocket Full of Rye. Miss Marple has a very personal stake in this one as her former maid Gladys is involved. The pacing is good and the misdirection effective, and I enjoyed the chemistry between Marple and Inspector Peele. That said, I’d also put The Moving Finger, 4:50 from Paddington, and Sleeping Murder close to the top. The beginning of At Bertram’s Hotel is so charming (and I will revisit it even though the mystery itself is rather “meh”), and I quite enjoyed Nemesis for its window into Marple’s sleuthing process.

Favorite short story: The Thirteen Problems was an entertaining story collection and I was pleasantly surprised to find so much Gothic goodness running throughout. The most Gothic of all was “The Idol House of Astarte,” a country house mystery involving a fancy dress party that ends with a deadly accident. Or was it murder? I wish this one could somehow be adapted to television!

Favorite TV adaptation: While the Joan Hickson versions are excellent and much truer to the original texts, I have to admit that my favorite of all the individual adaptations was the Geraldine McEwan version of The Moving Finger. One might say it takes liberties with its blatantly Noir setup and the hero’s PTSD angst, but it also gives more agency to the love interest and effectively reimagines that troubling “makeover” scene. It’s a delightfully cheeky adaptation, and James D’Arcy and Emilia Fox have great chemistry as the Burton siblings.

Favorite Miss Marple quote: “I like living myself — not just being happy and enjoying myself and having a good time. I mean living — waking up and feeling all over me, that I’m there — ticking over.” (from A Murder is Announced).

[My favorite non-Marple quote might be Gina’s description of Stonygates in They Do It With Mirrors: “It’s pretty ghastly, really. A sort of Gothic monstrosity. What Steve calls Best Victorian Lavatory period.”]

And now for tea!

After all the time I spent with Miss Marple, I felt she deserved a celebratory afternoon tea out on the town. Las Vegas actually has several options for proper tea, and for this occasion my husband and I tried the offerings at Rí Rá Irish Pub in Mandalay Bay.

[Did Miss Marple ever take tea at an Irish pub? Probably not. But I certainly can imagine her nephew Raymond coaxing her into a local pub for tea just so he could study the “local color” for one of his novels.]


We found Rí Rá very charming. The server placed us in a comfy little nook near the entrance of the pub — does one call this a “snug”? — and we were fortunate to have it all to ourselves.


Here is a closer look at the cozy china pattern. We both chose the Organic Assam tea, which was perfectly steeped and delicious.


And here you see the tea tray, featuring sandwiches (ham & tomato, egg mayo, cheddar with Ballymaloe relish, cucumber & creme fraiche), raisin scones with cream and black current jam, and a selection of “decadent desserts.” It was the perfect amount for two — we ate almost all of it and didn’t feel too stuffed. (It helped that we took a long walk through the Luxor to Excalibur and back before returning to our car.) I do think Miss Marple would have approved!

Do you have a favorite Marple novel, story, or TV adaptation? If so please share in the comments!

Friday Favorites: traditional afternoon tea in Las Vegas

Last week while Steve and I were in Las Vegas we made a special visit to the Mandarin Oriental to partake of their afternoon tea.

It was amazing! Let me show you. (Click photos for a larger view.)


First we were served perfectly steeped tea — Steve chose the Mandarin Orange (specially blended for the hotel chain), while I went with my comfort tea, Golden Tippy Assam. You can find the latter and much more at TeaLeaves.com.


Next came the tea tray — isn’t that a marvelous design? Our server suggested we start with the scones in order to enjoy them warm with the devonshire cream and preserves (we had a choice of apricot or cranberry). That’s always seemed the proper order to me, you know? Sweet, then savory, and then MEGA SWEET to finish. Yum.


A close-up of the savory offerings — curry chicken in sesame cones, goat cheese tartlet with apricot jelly, Black Forest ham sandwiches, and smoked salmon and cucumber. What a treat!


The “assorted tea pastries” had a charming holiday/winter theme (the snowmen were my favorite). Due to sugar coma, I can’t remember much about them except that they were delicious.


One of the loveliest things about this experience was our view — it was such a pleasure to sip our tea and watch the sunset.

This really was one of the best afternoon teas I’ve had in a long time. Such attention to detail in the food offerings! And the servers were attentive without being obtrusive. Highly recommended!

Christmas glee part III: Tea and HIGH RISING

This month’s “tea and a book” recommendation has such a Christmassy cover, doesn’t it? Or perhaps it’s just wintry, but that’s almost as good. Angela Thirkell, granddaughter of Pre-Raphaelite phenom Edward Burne-Jones, published High Rising in 1933 and went on to write several more novels set in Barsetshire, a fictional English setting borrowed from Anthony Trollope.

This edition from Virago Modern Classics is particularly attractive AND free of typographical errors, unlike my older copy from Moyer Bell. Looks like Virago will be releasing more of Thirkell’s books in the near future, and I look forward to getting my hands on Wild Strawberries in March.

High Rising centers mostly upon Laura Morland, a widowed mother of four who makes ends meet by writing best-selling suspense novels set in the fashion industry. Laura gets involved in several real-life village intrigues over Christmas and New Years, all while trying to survive the boundless energy and volubility of her youngest child Tony, who only wants to converse about trains. Allow me to share some favorite passges:

On motherhood:
Oh the exhaustingness of the healthy young! Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate my Children, but though [her publisher] had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.

Laura on the first church service of the new year:
Tony was an exhaustion to the spirit . . . and they had one of those psalms about Thy molars gnash upon me exceeding hard and my loins are spilled abroad on the ground, and I nearly got the giggles.

George Knox, after he and Laura leave King Lear at the first interval:
If there is one pleasure on earth which surpasses all others, it is leaving a play before the end. I might perhaps except the joy of taking tickets for a play, dining well, sitting on after dinner, and finally not going at all. That, of course, is very heaven.

(I certainly can relate to the last remark, having escaped an outdoor production of Lear at the interval last summer. I mean, it’s not like the story takes a happy turn! And it was cold. And my bottom hurt.)

Aside from a few unfortunate anti-Semitic jabs (which baffles me because one of the romantic heroes–beloved by everyone in the book–is of Jewish descent), this is a jolly read that had me barking with laughter throughout. Can’t wait to read more from Thirkell.

And now for tea…

This month’s tea offering is a product of my curiosity and laziness. A few years ago my in-laws served toasted slices of panettone for breakfast, and I, fearing potential grossness but not wanting to be a jerk, ate a small slice. Glory be, turns out I love the stuff! My husband, however, is not such a big fan, so it doesn’t really make sense for me to buy the usual cake-sized portion. But lookee here what Immaculate Baking Company has on offer — mini panettones that you can bake at home. Huzzah!


They are as easy to make as canned biscuits, and quite delicious! Keep in mind, however, that they are only available during the holiday season. I found mine at Whole Foods.


For tea, I chose “Esprit de Noël” from Mariage Frères. Lucky for you, getting your hands on this tea does not require a trip to France. You can order it online from The Cultured Cup. It has a delicate nutty/fruity/spicy flavor that pairs well with holiday treats.


I cut the mini panettone in half and toasted it — so delicious with butter. Don’t let Rustic Santa’s grim face fool you, he heartily approves!

And that about wraps it up for me in 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in the new year!