Tea Leaves In The Winter
Yesterday, I went to London to see the Queen.. actually no, but close enough. I went into the capital city away from the pig farm neighbours to go meet a close friend of mine and celebrate her expecting a new addition to their family. We celebrated as you would when in England.. by sitting down to partake in the quintessential tradition of English Afternoon Tea. Our pick of the afternoon tea venues was the Waldorf Hilton on the Strand by Covent Garden. Covent Garden itself is always a busy bustling entertainment area for renown and new artists plying their trade, it was also known as the red light district of central London in the 18th century but I digress and that's a story for another day. Winter in London is one of my favourite time of the year especially leading up to Christmas. The over exuberance in the Christmas lights display and decorations that meets you on every turn of a corner is enough to put even the most Grinch-est of all personalities into a good mood. I am also partial to winter because of it being the season of mulled wine and fresh warm bread as a street food cart menu option. This was my pre-afternoon snack... being a complete FOB, I had 3 portions... just incase.
Growing up in Fiji, we were taught how to steep tea from a very young age. This was a practise in most Fijian homes not because it was a display of the gentrified upbringing.. far from it. It was more because it was the most cost efficient way to brew tea. Tea bags were seen as wasteful due to it being disposed off after single use. Moving here to the UK, the convenience and the affordability of tea bags has made me lazy and lose my appreciation of the art of tea making. I say art because it is a skill to make that perfect cup of tea and I have yet to meet someone here in the UK who will make it to that standard. Even I disappoint myself, so the benchmark is high on this one.
So back to afternoon tea. I'll be honest I was expecting a rather superfluous take on the whole tradition but was pleasantly surprised to what greeted us. From the minute we walked through the double door entrance to when we were seated, I cannot fault the service we were provided. As a typical FOB, I perused the menu debating whether to upgrade to the most high-end of option just because I was quite hungry by this point and it seemed that the platters that were being served to patrons seated near us were of palagi standard and most probably would not fulfil my hunger. Coupled with that, I was eyeballing the size of the cups and thinking, I'm going to end up drinking straight from the teapot at this stage. But common sense prevailed and we settled for the most basic of the options, however what we were given was not basic by any means. The options of the types of tea that accompanied the spread prepared was as impressive as what the waiter brought out to us. In typical millennial style, once our table was laid with spoils of the afternoon, it was now time to take the perfect picture. A few minutes were spent debating whether we should ask the elderly couple sitting behind currently tucking into their pistachio macaroons or should we do a faux pas and ask one of the waiters. Faux pas won over disturbing the senior citizens but it just so happened we weren't the first to ask for a photo op and we most certainly weren't going to be the last. Two hours of sampling the decadent afternoon spread followed by copious amounts of tea drunk ended our afternoon excursion on a high. I must admit that it was one thing off my bucket list of things to do in the UK and what better way to do it then celebrating with friends.
As the writer Henry James said in Portrait of a Lady, "There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” For those here in the UK thinking of trying out the quintessential English afternoon tea tradition, I would highly recommend it.
On that note I leave you with the the perfect summary of my day by none other than the demi-god Sting, "I don't drink coffee, I drink tea my dear.."