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      Southern HospitaliTEA: Serving with style

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - It has been said that a true southern woman can take you mud bogging in the morning and then serve a proper tea in the afternoon. This longstanding tradition is the pride of many cultures, dating back to 2727 B.C. when the leaf from a tea tree accidently fell into a cup of boiled water, turning it brown and giving off a fragrent aroma. Not only was a delicious beverage discovered, but it was soon realized to also have soothing and healing properties. Since then, tea has been a ritual and pleasure enjoyed for centuries.

      A proper high tea is served in the afternoon, typically between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. This came into play in the late 1800s as Queen Victoria was looking for a little something to nibble on during the hours between lunch and dinner. Indeed, the afternoon snack soon became popular at court, and soon her countrymen were following suit and has since become a staple in British society.

      Even now, we southern belles love nothing more than an opportunity to be fancy, and a proper tea fits the bill perfectly. There are some protocol that go into a formal presentation, but there's enough room to personalize your tea service. Here are the fundamentals in a nutshell:

      Begin with your tea selection. Typically, the black teas such as English Breakfast and earl Grey are preferred options, but if you're looking for a non-caffeinated beverage, stick with herbal or fruit flavored teas. If you're throwing a children's tea party, there are some fun flavors like chocolate peppermint that are available. Once you've chosen your tean, heat up your teapot by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for at least five minutes. this will help keep your tea warm longer. Now it's time to steep! Whether your using loose leaf or bagged tea, you want to use enough for about two or three cups which will brew an entire teapot when left to steep. ideally, you want to leave the tea to steep for about five minutes. Remember the law of brewing: The longer, the stronger!

      Now on to the yummies. The first course consists of scones, accompanied by Double Devinshire clotted cream and Scottish lemon curd, both of which can be found in most grocery and specialty stores. You can make some adjustments, using big southern biscuits with butter and jelly, honeybutter, or even a brownsugar butter mix. Next we present finger sandwiches. The quintessential sandwich is cucumber with dill or watercress, chicken salad, or even salmon with capers. However, it's just fine to opt for any kind you like, even peanutbutter and jelly for the littlest ladies at the tea table. The only important thing to remember is to cut off the crusts and cut the sandwiches into quarters, either triangles or squares, but I've found that triangles taste fancier.

      Finally, we top off the meal with something sweet. Traditionally teacakes, called petit fours are delicious and super fancy schmancy. Again, this is where you can substitute anything you like, including chocolate covered strawberries, truffles, or mini cupcakes or even bite sized candy bars. Anything will do as long as it's tiny.

      Finally, let's talk etiquette. It's recommended that you dress for tea, as it lends to the pagentry. Always pour tea and serve the treats to your guests first, going so far as to help prerare their tea to their liking. It sould be noted that the Queen takes her tea with cream and sugar, and my philosophy is, if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me. Be sure to have some lemon and honey on hand as well.

      Now that you have successfully impressed your friends, revel in the glory of a job well done. high tea is the epitome of grace, and we're not just whistling dixie.