It was the combination of sugar and caffeinated tea that gave the working poor of 19th Century England their afternoon boost. Add to that some simple food and it fortified those who had a more physically demanding occupation than anyone should today. Afternoon tea was not always as dull as necessity dictated. On the other side of town, Afternoon Tea was served to the aristocracy in a manner that defined elegant decadence. The selection of foods to serve with tea has improved over the years, and so has the tea.
Today more and more people are drinking loose-leaf tea for the rich, clean flavours and intricate nuances it offers. Like wine, tea offers a multifaceted complexity and flavours that change with time, although you won’t find them in a tea bag. For brewing the best loose-leaf tea, place about two and a half teaspoons of tea in an infuser. Place it in an empty teapot and pour hot water over it (175F, never boiling). Let the tea steep for two to three minutes depending on your liking. Any longer and it may be bitter and tannic. Now remove the infuser and save it for your next pot of tea.
You can steep the same tea leaves up to four or five times, which makes loose-leaf tea not so expensive after all. Just make sure the infuser has enough room for the tea leaves to swim and swell as they brew. The flavour of tea changes with infusions, the first pot will be slightly different from the second (which is the best in my opinion) and third, and so on.
For a full-on tea experience, Bonsai Hill in downtown Aurora offers over 100 loose-leaf teas from the best tea producers around the world, including many organic and fair trade products. Afternoon tea is served in traditional English fashion along with homemade sandwiches and pastries. If you find a brew you’re partial to, it will be available for purchase. If you’re eager to learn more, Chinese tea tastings are also held.
It’s not just scones and fancy tea sandwiches that go with tea. Try pairing your favourite loose-leaf tea with foods you wouldn’t normally think of, such as Earl Grey with dark chocolate or blue cheese, Ceylon with a French lemon tart, or English Breakfast with a tea-glazed pork roast. For a counterpoint, try a fruity tea with smoked salmon or a spicy chai with a rich pâté. It’s high time for high tea, don’t you think?
Use the following as a reference on how long to steep these popular types of tea:
Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling Black Tea: 3-5 minutes
Chinese, Keemun, Yunnan or Szechwan Black Tea: 3-4 minutes
Chinese Green Tea (Lung Ching, Pi lo chun): 4 -6 minutes
Japanese Green Tea (Sencha, Bencha, Gyokuro): 1-3 minutes
Oolong Tea: 1-7 minutes
Proper-tea Etiquette at Home
1. Use loose tea, not tea bags
2. Don’t pour scalding water into the pot. It will burn the tea leaves and ruin the flavour.
3. Don’t stir the tea once it’s in the teapot. Place the teaspoon at 6 o’clock then move it up towards 12 o’clock position a couple of times.
4. Use sugar tongs, not your fingers to choose one lump or two.
5. Prepare sandwiches ahead of time but not too far in advance; 30 minutes is enough that they’ll still look fresh and appetizing.
Bonsai Hill, Aurora
Covernotes Tea & Coffee House, Newmarket
The Fresh Tea Shop, Newmarket
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.