Afternoon Tea in Turbulent Times

By Stella Veraduccia

Ah, tea – that simple, soothing infusion that calms our nerves and restores our spirits.  And it’s not only the beverage, but the whole experience. For many of us, there is nothing better than a perfectly brewed tea, with some delectable sweet and savory treats, enjoyed with good friends in a relaxing social environment. Just give us dainty finger sandwiches, elegant pastries, warm scones with clotted cream, and a proper cuppa, and all is right with the world. Except, right now, it isn’t….

We are in the midst of a serious global public-health crisis, which will likely get worse before it gets better, and at the moment we in the U.S. are under-prepared. If you have any doubt about this, see the compelling article by Tomas Pueyo on entitled “Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now” – it is a data-driven analysis of the viral spread and strategies to address it, the upshot of which is that our best hope for mitigation now depends on social distancing.  

Businesses and governments at the federal, state and local levels have been scrambling to safeguard communities by discouraging or banning large social gatherings.  In addition to the suspension of school terms, religious services, community activities, and sports and entertainment events, we’re finding that grocery shelves are bare and restaurants are closing.

These are uncharted waters for all of us, and every day brings new revelations and guidelines. People are becoming more and more isolated, nervous and fearful … people need tea!  But how can you possibly experience a soothing Afternoon Tea in these turbulent times? The three essential elements of a successful Afternoon Tea – indeed, of any enjoyable dining experience — are good food, delightful company, and a pleasant ambiance. 

Good food is easy. Many eateries are now offering more menu items on a take-away basis; just be sure to call ahead to order, and confirm a time for pick-up. If you enjoy baking and food preparation at home, make a few of your favorite specialties or try your hand at something new. If you’re not that good in the kitchen and don’t want to order out, no problem –  you do know how to make a sandwich, right?  Just trim off the crusts and cut it into triangles, add a nice store-bought pastry and a hot cup of good tea, and Bob’s your uncle!**

Delightful company even when sheltering in place is also possible. Set up a “virtual” tea date with one or more friends by agreeing on a certain day and time. Share menu suggestions and recipes, as well as the titles of books you are reading, your latest Netflix obsession, family photos, or whatever else you’d like to talk about. Prepare and plate your Afternoon Tea at home (see “Ambiance” below), and then connect at the appointed time via conference call, Skype, FaceTime, or other video-chat platform. Pinkies up!        

Very few of us think of the term “ambiance” when referring to our own homes, but perhaps we should, especially when everything outside our homes seems to be approaching an apocalyptic dystopia. Your home-based Afternoon Tea should be a tranquil respite from the rest of your day, especially if you have restless kids home from school, a teleworking significant-other, or – horrors – both. Unless they are your actual tea partners, ask the other people in your home to leave you alone for an hour or so when you’re ready to sit down. That’s right, sit down:  Afternoon Tea is not accomplished by standing at the kitchen sink with a mug of lukewarm something in one hand and an uncut sandwich in the other. Use your best china for once, set a pretty little table-for-one, and arrange the food attractively on a tray while you brew the tea. Sit down, breathe deeply, give thanks for all you have, and tuck in.

We do not know exactly what the next few months have in store for us, but we do know that they will be unsettling and perhaps chaotic, and we will need to do everything we can to keep calm and stay healthy. We also know that tea is balm for the soul, and that there is comfort in certain rituals that remind us of pleasant times in happier circumstances.  So go ahead, have a nice cuppa, and take good care.   

** If you are not familiar with this delightful British phrase, “Bob’s your uncle” means something like a combination of you’re all set, easy-peasy, and voila!

About the author: Stella Veraduccia is the pen-name of a popular writer who lives in Haymarket. In other lives, she has been an English teacher, nonprofit executive, tea-room proprietress, and founder of a fictitious organization called The International Sisterhood of Eccentric Aunties.

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