Does the final season of “Downton Abbey” find you longing for afternoon tea? Or maybe cold, dark afternoons just call from something warm and comforting.
Like-minded individuals may be headed for savories and sweets and a variety of teas at St. James Tearoom on Osuna NE or other tea shops, like Figment Tea on Montgomery NE, but you can always pull out your teapot and warm your oven with homemade treats to satisfy your craving.
Laura Bartolucci, St. James Tearoom special events planner, says taking a cue from the long-running PBS series and offering your guests tea is a fun and elegant way to make them feel welcome. Farewell tribute teas to “Downton Abbey’s” final season tonight and Tuesday at the tearoom are sold out, she says, but a full English tea in the same style is always available with reservations.
On “Downton Abbey,” “everyone comes over to the big house and they always offer them tea and biscuits or something to eat. It’s such a gracious way to to welcome people,” Bartolucci says. “Here (in New Mexico) we’re more likely to offer them coffee or Coke. But tea is such a warm tradition, it shouldn’t get lost.”
Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is credited with introducing afternoon tea in England in 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around 4 p.m. and with four or more hours left before dinner, she asked for tea and a tray of savories and sweets. The concept caught on and was made into a more formal occasion, Bartolucci says. Tiny sandwiches and other savories, breads and sweets were offered.
Afternoon tea, usually sipped on a sofa from a low table, is different than high tea, Bartolucci explains. High tea is a supper-like meal with tea for a beverage after work and served at a higher table.
“There are tea parties and tea ceremonies all over the world,” says Figment Tea owner Diane Daniels, from little children with teddy bears and dolls to the elegant Japanese tea ceremony that takes the hostess years to learn.
“We like to say there is formality and reality and within that you can take your tea however you like,” Daniels explains. “Tea is about relating, whether you are relating to yourself or others. You make yourself a cup of tea and it makes you feel better. Tea makes you slow down. You have to wait for the water to boil, the tea to steep. Then you smell it and take the first sip that feels so good going down your throat.”
For an English tea with friends, Daniels suggests pulling out your favorite teapot, maybe with a floral pattern and using a tea cosy to keep the brewed tea warm. If you don’t have a huge selection of teacups, she recommends having your guests bring their own. Bite-sized snacks and tiny desserts round out the menu. “Any hors d’oeuvres or appetizers you like would work. Make chicken salad sandwiches and cut the crusts off.” She says an Earl Grey or a Lady Londonderry tea would complement a tea party well.
Bartolucci says St. James Tearoom serves varieties of black, green, oolong and herbal tea. “You want a heavier tea for the heavier part of the meal.”
She says cucumber sandwiches are traditional and flavored butter, with dill or mint, and a nice bread are simple ways to complement the tea. She likes to serve scooped-out small tomatoes with a dollop of chicken salad.
Sweets could be gingerbread, nut breads, chocolates or cookies.
“We are celebrating the beauty of tea, the food and relationships you can share over tea,” she adds.
Both the St. James Tearoom and Figments Tea sell formal tea party accessories.
Bartolucci says you can find what you need at St. James Tearoom, down to the sugar tongs. “We have everything from a very high range to very affordable in our gift shop.” They also have specialty food items like prepared scones, lemon and other flavored curd and scone mixes.
ROSE FLOWER & ALMOND SCONES
Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter and serve on a paper-doily lined plate.
12 ounces all purpose flour
4 ounces almond flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
3 ounces butter, cut into cubes
10 ounces cream
3 tablespoons rose flower water
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/8 teaspoon red food color
Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter using food processor.
Combine liquid ingredients and add to the flour mixture until just combined.
Knead briefly. Roll dough out to about 5/8-inch. Cut out scones with a 2-inch round cookie cutter or special shape.
Bake at 350 degrees for 14 to 16 minutes.
– “Signature Tastes,” St. James Tearoom
GLUTEN-FREE SHORTBREAD CUPS
Top these with lemon curd, almond slivers and fresh raspberry or blueberry.
Serves about 26
2 cups brown rice flour
½-cup almond flour
¼ cup sweet rice or glutinous rice flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces butter, cut into cubes
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
St. James Tearoom lemon curd
Combine dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter cubes and almond extract.
Continue to mix in food processer until no cubes of butter are visible. Scoop, roll into balls and make cups in large mini muffin pan.
Bake 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool, remove from pan. Top with lemon curd or other flavor.
– “Signature Tastes,” St. James Tearoom