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The Point of Tea

Suzanne Pollak


I am a tea addict. My mornings begin with a comforting mug of milky tea and honey, a cup of smokey Hu-Kwa highlights my afternoons. My favorite characters in fiction join my tea habit. The redoubtable Dowager Countess in Downtown Abbey insists there is always something particular to discuss at tea. In Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series, Precious Ramotswe, the owner of a small detective agency in Gaborone, makes the case for regular tea breaks throughout the day. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, in Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow puts the tea matter perfectly:

…A prompt dispensing of pleasantries and a quick shift to the business at hand [is] utterly in keeping with the etiquette of tea — perhaps even essential to the institution… Before the first cake was sampled the purpose of the invitation would be laid upon the table… The most accomplished of hostesses could signal the transition with a word of her choosing. For the Count’s grandmother, the word had been Now, as in Now, …I have heard some distressing things about you, my boy…. For Princess Poliakova, a perennial victim of her own heart, it had been Oh… Oh, Alexander, I have made a terrible mistake…

The point of tea is different than the point of a breakfast meeting, a ladies luncheon or a dinner party. Some meals have no point but tea does and that’s what makes the ritual special. Tea calms, tea puts things into perspective, tea has a long history around the world. We are focusing on afternoon tea here and the elegant accoutrements of porcelain cups, dedicated tea pot, silver spoons, bite size sandwiches and scones; all of which make a cup full of hot liquid become a memorable break anywhere. A cup of tea even soothed the jangled nerves of Londoners under bombardment during World War II. Whether a flighty or weighty topic is discussed, the result is similar: one feels better about one’s life after tea. There is almost nothing one can’t face after a bracing cup of tea.

Two favorite tea parties:

Teas for two. My friend Inga Owen was born in the early 1900’s and raised in a palace in Sweden. During our tea afternoons Inga told stories about etiquette and dressing that were part of her young aristocratic life in Stockholm. I baked scones, Inga poured Hu-Kwa tea while we quickly dispensed with our obligatory remarks on this and that, hardly waiting to dive in on what needed to be discussed. The moment Inga poured the tea we shifted to the weighty matters at hand.

Inga stuck to a hard and fast rule in everything: the simpler, the more elegant. Her tea menu was a case in point. Inga’s Tea Menu consisted of cucumber sandwiches and a pot of Hu-Kwa tea. She allowed me to gild the lily by adding scones but it took convincing to change her strict rules!

Teas for many. Teas for a group of mothers and daughters (and grandmothers) is a celebration tea. The conversations will be wide ranging, but a single finer point is made — daughters feel the camaraderie and connections of females getting together, often dressing up, sipping and nibbling special foods, and taking time out to celebrate nothing much, the whole point!


Little girls like sweets more than sandwiches, especially vegetable and fish sandwhiches, so the menu is titled in the cookie direction...

  • Tomato sandwiches

  • Smoked Salmon sandwiches

  • Cucumber sandwiches

  • Orange scones

  • Brandy snaps

  • Almond biscotti

  • Lemon mounds 

Goodbye for now. Time to put the kettle on.