I was startled when a very dear friend called me last week and suggested we have a mid-afternoon tea in the shop on the next sunny spring day. Thoughts of my 6 ‘3″ frame perched on a tipsy chair with pinky akimbo sent shivers up my spine and my mind immediately raced to “what would Dad say about that?” But to my friend, who is from another generation, the suggestion was perfectly reasonable and so I thought “why not?” I just could not bring myself, however, to call it a “tea party”.
My experience with tea up to this point in my life pretty much ran to having it sweet and iced on hot summer days while growing up in the south where it is the beverage du jour. That and when I’ve had a sore throat and drank it hot and sweetened with honey. But I decided to view this as just another design challenge, a new experience (one I might end up enjoying) and, most important, it would give my guest pleasure.
So I dusted off the white faux bois china tea service (no time to break it in like the present), retrieved the yunnan black tea leaves by Dean & Deluca from the pantry (a gift from friends over the holidays), grabbed some teaspoons (so that’s what they’re for!), white damask linen napkins and the very fancy Japanese round sugar cubes (can cubes be round?) that a friend from afar sends us occasionally.
But what to nosh on? Since it was early afternoon, I decided on raspberry and chocolate French macaroons and lemon-almond scones from a terrific patisserie nearby along with homemade teacakes made from my maternal grandmother’s recipe. (My grandmother always had a fresh supply of her teacakes on hand when we would visit although she always served them with milk fresh from the cows, not tea. I don’t get it.)
Since I’ve been told I am not the baker in the family, I coaxed my wife into making the simple shortbread teacakes. It’s only going to cost me an acrobatic weekend on the ladder washing the second floor windows, but it is a small price to pay.
On Wednesday afternoon with the spring sun finally showing the other side of its face, I piled the treats onto a three-tiered silver server, sliced lemons paper thin (actually the hardest part of this whole exercise), poured milk into the creamer just in case my guest preferred milk over lemon, prepared the beverage and welcomed my guest. And with pinky firmly wrapped around teacup, I successfully played host to my first (but now I am happy to say, not my last) rustic chic tea at the shop.
All photos by Joel Woodard