It is the bane of any tea-lover’s existence: An afternoon tea service that treats the tea as inconsequential.
Don’t get me wrong: I like scones, sweets and sandwiches as much as the next person, and while my low-carb regimen doesn’t allow me to indulge too often, I have been known to enjoy a triple-tiered tray of teatime delights on occasion. But this meal is called “tea” for a reason, and those that offer it ought to be willing to provide good tea along with it.
Sadly, this is not always the case.
The problem often begins with a restaurant’s selection of teas, which usually falls into one of three categories:
- Bagged Teas: The afternoon tea experience should not include teabags. Afternoon tea should be an elegant, relaxing respite and establishments should invest in proper teaware for the infusion of loose-leaf teas.
- Indifferent Teas: Each tea on offer should be of good quality. Offering elegant finger sandwiches alongside mediocre tea is unfeeling.
- Unsuitable Teas: Some establishments try to get it right by offering a wide tea selection. But some teas work better than others with food, and I’ve seen restaurants offer white teas, oolongs, and flavored teas that should be consumed on their own or, at least, not with finger sandwiches and sweets. While I understand that some patrons may simply want a cup of tea, rather than an afternoon tea meal, restaurants should indicate on their menus those teas that go best with traditional tea foods.
Once the tea is served, the problems get worse: There is little communication between waitstaff and customer as to when the tea began to infuse, leaving the customer to guess as to when the tea should be poured. This can result in a cup of either very weak or over-brewed tea. Then the tea leaves may be left to stew in the pot, rendering the rest of the tea bitter and disagreeable.
Tea rooms and restaurants that offer afternoon tea service need to take steps to ensure the quality of the tea they serve. They should begin by offering a good selection of quality, food-friendly teas. They should then invest in teaware with removable infuser baskets along with timers for measuring steep-times. Staff should be trained to use these tools and guide patrons in their use so as to ensure that the tea served at afternoon tea is actually worth drinking.
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