Making time for tea

Making time for tea

There’s something wonderfully soothing about a cup of tea. Imagine, then, the comfort to be derived from an entire pot of tea. And not just any tea, but one selected from a luxurious list of international offerings — black, red, green, white — and served neatly bundled in a floral tea cozy.

The British institution of afternoon tea has much to recommend it. Sharing tea, scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, veggie finger sandwiches, and "sweets" with friends last week at a small, charming tea house was probably the high point of the past month. (For those cynics thinking, "Get a life," let me assure you that the month was not half bad. It’s just that the tea experience was that good.)

The establishment we visited, in Wayne, was filled with tea-related paraphernalia. My favorite display item (not for sale) was a small tiffany lamp shaped like a teapot. There was not a man in sight, although I would assume that discerning men would enjoy the experience as well.

On the day we "tead" — golfers "tee," after all, so why can’t we "tea"? — only one of us wore a hat. Sitting in the rarefied atmosphere of this delightful cultural throwback, we were all a bit giddy, and it occurred to us that we should all be wearing hats. And maybe, suggested someone later, white gloves.

And why not? If you’re going to do something, do it right! Leave the world of office, bills, home repairs and (at least the day we went) heat, and enter a realm of white cloth napkins, patterned china, scrupulous service, and (dare I say it) good old-fashioned indulgence.

Running to the internet to validate my feelings of euphoria, I came across an article on a Website called Garden and Hearth in which author Nicole Henderson Auger, a Charlotte-based author and consultant "who enjoys hosting and creating theme parties," enjoins her readers to consider making afternoon tea "a ritual."

Wrote Auger, "Ceremony is a lost art in America today. Sometimes I really look forward to occasions that require proper dress and decorum as well as an out-of-the-ordinary menu. Afternoon Tea is the perfect way to slow down, appreciate the art of conversation, and brush-up on manners."

Manners, apparently, figure prominently in this ritual. Indeed, in a Japanese tea ceremony, according to Wikipedia, "even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of the prescribed gestures and phrases, the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room."

While I’m not sure that our group measured up in the manners department (we may have been somewhat louder than surrounding tables), we certainly came away feeling both energized and civilized.

The proprietor of the tea house told me that she frequently entertains groups of Red Hats, middle-aged women donning red hats (and, often, purple outfits), who gather simply to enjoy themselves. According to the group’s Website, the society began "as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan. We believe silliness is the [comic] relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together."

OK. I admit it. When I first heard about this group, I laughed (or possibly sneered). Now, however, as I prepare to search for a large, floppy hat to wear to my next tea excursion, I have stopped shaking my head in derision and have started nodding it in agreement.

The Talmud says that if a person has the opportunity to taste a new fruit and refuses to do so, he will have to account for that in the World to Come. (After all, the reasoning goes, God created the yummy fruits for our pleasure, and refusing to taste it would show a lack of appreciation.)

Surely, there’s room in this teaching for enjoyment of tea parties. I certainly hope so.

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