Abe Silverman's Antique Silver Shop
The Elegant Victorian Cup of Tea & Tea Party

Are you ready to enjoy that special time by hosting a Victorian Tea Party?  The following guide will you assist you along the way for hosting an elegant tea party. 

How to properly set the table, the proper steps to making tea, recommended tea brewing times and the Legend of the Origins of Tea are all covered.
How to Properly Set your Tea Party Table

Table Cloth Linens - The most elegant way to begin your enjoyment of the perfect cup of tea for a tea party is to use a cotton or crochet table linen to cover your table.  White linen is the most common, but cotton and lace can also be used.  Abe has obtained a fine selection of hand-loomed cotton table linens and crochet table linens cloths in white, natural and ecru from a close friend in Zimbabwe, Africa.  Many have lace, hand-embroidery or tattting edges.

Cloth or Linen Napkins - Cotton or linen napkins or serviettes should be used - never paper.  The cloth napkins should match or coordinate with the table cloth.   Many hostesses creatively fold their napkins to add a special touch to the table setting.  You can learn how to creatively fold napkins from the International Guild of Professional Butlers.

Teacups - Teacups are a favorite item to collect. It is so satisfying to look up at a shelf full of varied bone china tea cups.  Early tea cups did not have handles and fingers were often burned on the hot edges of the cups.  Also, in order to cool tea before drinking, it was acceptable to pour one's tea into the saucer and drink it. Proper tea cups should be of china and have a dainty handle and saucer.  Today tea cups are often bought as individual items and added to collections or passed down from family members.  Abe offers a beautiful collection of fine china tea cups and saucers and fine china demitasse teacups available for purchase.

Tea Kettle - Modern tea kettles are used to heat water to pour into the china tea pots for serving.  In the Victorian era, tea kettles were often made of ornate silver and sat over a burner.  They had little handles that came out the sides and sat in a u-shaped holder so that the lady of the house could mix her tea, put it in the pot and pour the hot water from the kettle right into the tea pot without lifting it.  She would hold the handle and tip it gently forward and the hot water would pour into the pot. 

Teapot - Tea pots can be tall, like our coffee pots today, and can be silver or china.  Most however, are "short and stout" as the old song says.  Few people can actually afford a full silver tea set (with tray) and some people think that a silver tea pot affects the taste of the tea.  Antique quadruple silver plate teapot (tea pot) kettles can be found here at Abe's.  Many prefer the beautiful china tea pots that sometimes come in sets with the creamer and sugar bowl.  Tea pots are also very collectable, and it is nice to have several when having a tea in order to offer several tea options. 

Sugar Bowl - Often matches the creamer and tea pot and we have a wide variety of antique quadruple silver plate sugar bowls available.  Sugar bowls can hold granulated sugar, sugar lumps or sugar cubes.  Granulated sugar tends to get spilled as guests spoon it into their tea cups, making the tea table look messy.
It is a matter of preference, but the daintier, tidier sugar lumps or cubes are nicer. 

Silver or Silver Plate Creamer Pitcher - This is a small silver pitcher, filled with milk, which is used in the tea.  It is called a creamer in most tea sets, but it is also referred to as a milk pitcher or milk ewer.  Abe has many antique quadruple silver plate pitchers and creamers, and often has the matching silver sugar bowl and even the silverplate tea pot.  Milk should be the only refreshment served from the creamer pitcher. Cream is too heavy and will mask the flavor of the tea.  Some-times the tea will react with the cream as well, so be sure to stick with plain milk.

Creamer / Pitcher Cover - These covers look like beaded doilies and are used to cover an open creamer to keep the flies out. These covers can also be used to cover the sugar cubes in an open sugar bowl.

Teaspoons - Teaspoons are usually silver or silver plate and about half the size of regular teaspoons that come in a flatware set.  Beautiful antique silverplate teaspoons and other silverplate flatware pieces are available in the silver flatware section.  Because they are smaller, they fit perfectly on the edge of the tea cup.  Teaspoons should be placed on the right side of the saucer with the handle facing the drinker.  They are used to quietly stir the milk and sugar into the tea.

Sugar Tongs - The ever popular granulated sugar that we have today wasn't used in the Victorian era.  Sugar came in blocks and had to be chipped off into bits and placed in bowls for consumption in tea.  Silver sugar tongs, and their predecessors, sugar nips, which have scissors-like handles, are the commonly used instruments for picking up sugar lumps or cubes.  Although these aren't a requirement for an afternoon tea, they are recommended.

Tea Strainer - Porcelain or silver tea strainers are made to place over the top of a tea cup to catch the leaves when pouring the tea.  Although many of us strain the tea before placing the pot on the table, many people use a tea strainer anyway to remind them that tea is about slowing down and enjoying the people and the ritual.  Many tea strainers are too pretty not to use anyway, so whether you strain your tea or not, it is a good idea to display them for mere admiration if nothing else.

Mote Spoon - Mote spoons are very rare these days, and antique mote spoons are highly sought after by those who collect tea accoutrement.  Mote spoons have holes and a long pointed handle, because they perform two functions.  When used like a spoon and run across the tea's surface, they would skim off the floating "motes" or bits of tea.  The long pointed handle was used to plunge into the spout of the tea pot when it got clogged with tea leaves.  New mote spoons can be purchased at Annie's Teatime website.

China Dessert Plates - Since afternoon tea menus usually consist of delicate finger foods, a large china plate isn't necessary.  Smaller china dessert plates are the perfect size.  Bone or fine china is preferred, and Abe has a wide selction of fine china pieces and a selection of miniture china tea sets!

Silver Serving Plates or Baskets - Beautiful china or crystal plates used to display savories, scones, and sweets served during tea time.  Some china plates can be a single plate, often with a gold or silver handle through the center; others have two or three tiers all joined by a central handle.  Silverplate cake baskets are the perfect serving piece for fine tea, and Abe has many for purchase! You can further adorne the cake basket or plate holders with silk ivy and/or flowers.

Tea Cozy - Cozies were not used in Victorian tea parties, but were a very common part of the average English home. They slip over a hot tea pot and keep the tea warm longer than if left to the cool air in the room.  Don't miss the selection of hand-made tea cozies availabe for purchase at Abe's.  If you do not strain your tea before putting on a tea cozy, then you will find that you have a pot full of very strong, bitter tea. Tea should only brew a few minutes and then be removed. Tea cozies come in many shapes and styles. Usually they are thick and quilted. 

Tea Warmer - There are several different varieties of these, but all use the tea light candles to keep the tea warm. I was rather skeptical at first, thinking that the flame would cook my tea and ruin it. That does happen if you keep it on the flame for hours, but my pot of tea never lasts that long! It does keep it at a perfect temperature, so that you don't end up with that last cup being tepid and less than enjoyable. I recommend that you give them a try.

Tea Tray - If you are fortunate enough to have a silver tray service, then you may have gotten the large oval tea tray that came with it. Otherwise, there are various sizes of tea trays available from silver to porcelain to wood. They can be painted or decorated. They should have strong but decorative handles for carrying and be large enough to fit a tea pot, creamer, and sugar bowl. If you can fit the tea cups as well that is an added benefit!

Tea Caddy - These were decorative boxes or containers that held tea. Some had several compartments in which to keep different types of tea. This allowed the lady of the house to mix her own blend should she desire it. It also kept the green and black teas from mixing. Some tea caddies were wooden, others glass, silver or porcelain. Most tea caddies had a lock with only one key. It was kept by the lady of the house, as tea was quite expensive and they did not want the servants using it.

Tea Caddy Spoon - These were usually silver and were made to measure out tea from the tea caddy into the pot. As the Chinese used to use an actual shell to measure their tea and so the shell motif was a popular one for a Victorian tea caddy spoon.

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The Legend of the Origins of Tea

The story of tea began in ancient China over 5,000 years ago.  According to legend, Shen Nung, an early emperor was a skilled ruler, creative scientist and patron of the arts. His far-sighted edicts required, among other things, that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution.  One summer day while visiting a distant region of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest.  In accordance with his ruling, the servants began to boil water for the court to drink.  Dried leaves from the near by bush fell into the boiling water, and a brown liquid was infused into the water.  As a scientist, the Emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some, and found it very refreshing.  And so, according to legend, tea was created.  (This myth maintains such a practical narrative, that many mythologists believe it may relate closely to the actual events, now lost in ancient history.)

The Chinese Influence on Tea

Tea consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture reaching into every aspect of the society.  In 800 A.D. Lu Yu wrote the first definitive book on tea, the Ch'a Ching.  This amazing man was orphaned as a child and raised by scholarly Buddhist monks in one of China's finest monasteries.  However, as a young man, he rebelled against the discipline of priestly training which had made him a skilled observer.  His fame as a performer increased with each year, but he felt his life lacked meaning.  Finally, in mid-life, he retired for five years into seclusion.

Drawing from his vast memory of observed events and places, he codified the various methods of tea cultivation and preparation in ancient China.  The vast definitive nature of his work, projected him into near sainthood within his own lifetime.  Patronized by the Emperor himself, his work clearly showed the Zen Buddhist philosophy to which he was exposed as a child.  It was this form of tea service that Zen Buddhist missionaries would later introduce to imperial Japan.

The Japanese Influence on Tea

The first tea seeds were brought to Japan by the returning Buddhist priest Yeisei, who had seen the value of tea in China in enhancing religious mediation.  As a result, he is known as the "Father of Tea" in Japan.  Because of this early association, tea in Japan has always been associated with Zen Buddhism.  Tea received almost instant imperial sponsorship and spread rapidly from the royal court and monasteries to the other sections of Japanese society.

Tea was elevated to an art form resulting in the creation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony ("Cha-no-yu" or "the hot water for tea").  The best description of this complex art form was probably written by the Irish-Greek journalist-historian Lafcadio Hearn, one of the few foreigners ever to be granted Japanese citizenship during this era.  He wrote from personal observation, "The Tea ceremony requires years of training and practice to graduate in art...yet the whole of this art, as to its detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea.  The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible".

Three great Zen priests restored tea to its original place in Japanese society:

Such a purity of form, of expression prompted the creation of supportive arts and services.  A special form of architecture (chaseki) developed for "tea houses", based on the duplication of the simplicity of a forest cottage.  The cultural/artistic hostesses of Japan, the Geishi, began to specialize in the presentation of the tea ceremony.  As more and more people became involved in the excitement surrounding tea, the purity of the original Zen concept was lost.  The tea ceremony became corrupted, boisterous and highly embellished. "Tea Tournaments" were held among the wealthy where nobles competed among each other for rich prizes in naming various tea blends.  Rewarding winners with gifts of silk, armor, and jewelry was totally alien to the original Zen attitude of the ceremony. Poornima's Recipes/Food Facts
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Victorian Tea Party Silver Tea
Victorian flatware Place Setting Tea Party
The Proper Steps to Making Tea

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Recommended Tea Brewing Times

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