tea time has
a place in
Chef Paul Clinton learned the meaning of a proper tea time from his grandmother when he was growing up in Topeka, KS. Every week, his British-born grandmother, who moved to the states when she was 15, would host a tea time for other “English Wives,” a group of ladies who quenched their thirst with the genteel custom of sitting down with dainty cups of tea and fancy scones and pastries.
“She's been in America for so many years, and she's still doing the English Wives' party,” Clinton says.
As a child, Clinton would mostly hide in the stairwell during those gatherings, but now, he's putting that knowledge to good use at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, AR, where he is executive chef.
The hospital's formal tea times, which began a few months ago, give patients an elegant reason to get up, walk around, and socialize — all vital components to recovery, and that same sense of community that the English Wives sought out.
Tea itself can help with healing, says Melanie Marken, senior account manager, Eastern United States, Peet's Coffee & Tea. “Tea tends to have medicinal properties,” she says.
Green tea is high in antioxidants, shown to help fight free radicals in the body; chamomile has a long reputation for its ability to soothe; and peppermint tea is said to help with stomach problems, Marken says.
The Tea Experience
Tea time at St. Vincent's has been very well-received, Clinton says. “They love it,” he says. “It's a great little social meeting spot to get away from the ‘hospital’ atmosphere. There's even a fireplace.”
Each afternoon, from 2-3 p.m., about 40 patients, friends and family enter a room near the center of the unit, where the light glints off sterling silver tea sets. They are greeted by waitstaff in uniforms punctuated by bow ties and vests.
Once seated at one of eight tables, patients and their guests get a taste of what the British have been enjoying for centuries.
Tea time guests munch on fresh-baked cookies — about half are baked on premises, and the other half come from a local bakery. The treats include crumpets, jelly cookies, small shortbread cookies and more. They choose from eight different varieties of hot tea, or, if they must, six kinds of iced tea or gourmet coffee.
There are three different kinds of honey available to sweeten the tea: lilac, orange, and a savory herb honey, that Clinton says would work well with a heartier tea, like Earl Grey.
The service is special. “The servers are trained in the proper way to serve,” says Stephen Waddell, systems director at St. Vincent's. “They place the cup just so. The handle must face right, and they always pour from the right,” he says. “Ladies first.”
Marken says it's important to make sure tea is brewed at the proper temperature by preheating the cup, the same as you would serve a salad on a cold plate.
High and Low
According to Annelies Zijderveld, marketing manager at Mighty Leaf Tea Company, many Americans get tea terminology wrong sometimes. If you were to inquire about “high tea” in London, people would think you meant dinner, as that's what they call it there, Zijderveld explains.
“There are several kinds of afternoon teas,” she says. “Cream tea” is tea with scones, jam and Devon Double Cream, also known as “clotted cream.” “Light tea” is tea with scones and sweets. “Full tea” is tea with savories, scones, sweets and dessert. “Low tea” is taken in a sitting room, and gets its name from the low table (or coffee table) that the tea is served upon.
Marken, who works with colleges and universities that have tea times and tea houses on campus, says college students have grown more sophisticated in their tea tastes.
“You can give college students teas like Ti Kwon Yin (a dark oolong tea named for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy), or different Chai teas,” she says. “College students love Chai.”
Chai is a spicy tea with flavors of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black tea and black pepper.