The concept of a "tea" as a food-and-drink event sounds lovely, but it can quickly become confusing for people who have heard about the ritual only through books or TV shows. This British tradition -- really a blanket term for a few different types of events -- has grown in popularity in other countries such as the United States and Australia. And it can be quite fun, but you should keep a couple of tips in mind to ensure the tea doesn't turn into a terrible time.
Make sure you know both what you're after and what's normally served in your area. As mentioned, "tea" can involve a few events. High tea, in particular, is often misunderstood, and not necessarily by average customers seeking high tea -- sometimes it's the establishment advertising the high tea that is offering a different type.
Real high tea, as in what passes for high tea in the U.K., is an informal early-evening meal consisting of fill-you-up-type dishes like fish and chips or shepherd's pie. The name "high tea" sounds fancy, and many people confuse it with afternoon tea, the fancier tiny-pastry-and-cucumber-sandwich-type of snack. Many restaurants have started offering a version of high tea that is really afternoon tea to satisfy those customers. If you are seeking a true British high tea, verify with the establishment that you're planning to go to that the menu will reflect that. You don't want to show up expecting the equivalent of dinner only to get a scone with jam, or vice versa.
Forget the Little Finger
No matter the type of tea you want, avoid raising your pinky finger when you pick up a teacup or piece of food. This is a stereotype, and despite some art showing the extended pinky, you're really not supposed to have your little finger forced straight outward. Hold items as you would normally. Even afternoon tea nowadays is a little more relaxed than the frighteningly formal affairs you see on period TV shows.
As small as this faux pas sounds, it can set the stage for later embarrassment if you ever travel to the U.K. In fact, the extended-pinky-at-tea is kind of a silly stereotype of Americans at British tea establishments.
Go for Variety
Even traditional high teas offered a good amount of variety. Order basics like fish and chips if you want, but also look at cheese platters, cold cuts, and other offerings to make the meal more memorable. Sounds simple, but you'd be surprised at how many times people overlook much of the menu and stick with a dish they could get in many other places.
Tea is a time to talk with friends and family about the day over delicious food, and you want your tea time to satisfy any cravings you've had. One quick call to the place you're planning to go to will let you clear up any questions about what's being offered.
For more information, contact Clumzy Clover Teas & Treasures or a similar company.