Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Afternoon Tea

There are few rituals more pleasing than afternoon tea. Yet, despite our affection for this national pastime, how many of us still take time to observe it? 

London's 'The Ritz' has a three-to-five month waiting list for their fashionable, formal afternoon tea, yet more ordinary, down-to-earth, (not to mention affordable) at-home teatime has fallen by the wayside.

Afternoon tea at home needn't be all that ordinary. Getting out the fine china and setting the table with pretty tea ware always lifts my spirits. The majority of vintage fine china pieces that can be picked up relatively cheaply from charity shops or second-hand markets, are simply gorgeous to look at, with intricate floral patterns and fine see-through china. They're a million miles away from the generic, minimalist design the high street churns out.

And it doesn't all need to match. I love some pieces I have stashed in my china cabinet; plates (pictured) from a marché aux puces in Burgundy, wafer-thin Limoges cups and saucers (pictured) from a china shop in Normandy over 30 years ago  (its twin, in blue, didn't survive the move from London), a two-tier etched-glass cake stand (pictured) from a local charity shop and silver teapot and milk jug  from a second-hand shop in South London (teapot & jug pictured are from a full Staffordshire bone china dinner/tea service bought 30 years ago at a local auction).These pieces give me as much pleasure, as the tea that is served on/in them. They hold cherished memories of people and places that mean so much to me.

Nor does afternoon tea have to be a lavish affair. A fruit scone, or hot, toasted, buttered crumpets with a good quality tea  is made special by the very routine of setting the table or tray with pretty china. Serve in front of a roaring fire and the grey weather recedes. Teatime is time well spent - a time to relax and savour the aesthetic as well as the simple. Whether taken in the company of friends or family, or in solitude - everything stops for tea.