Why afternoon tea is the perfect winter pastime

If ever there was a winter to revive the ritual of afternoon tea, this is it. After all, tea-time was invented for precisely the circumstances we often now find ourselves in—with too much time at home on our hands.

t was in the first half of the 1800s that the Duchess of Bedford—a trusted GF to Queen Victoria—dreamed up the idea of fitting in another meal to fill the tedious hours—especially slow on dreary days—between lunch and a fashionably late dinner.

A simple, elegant cup from the Departo line

Lots of modern families still practice some form of the tea-break. According to the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, 8.2 billion cups of tea are consumed around the globe every single day. In 2019, Canada imported 38,000 metric tonnes of tea. Almost a third of Canadians drink tea every day, and slightly more than half drink it at least weekly.  Since the onset of Covid, sales and consumption of tea have jumped, with many citing its physical and mental benefits.

The association’s #HotTeaMonth social media contest (closes January 31/winners selected February 1) will award a year’s supply of tea to three people. Partners include Bigelow, Blink, DAVIDs, Hain Celestial, Harney & Sons, Typhoo, and Yorkshire Tea.

Their site also promotes the use of tea in baking and cooking. I found a recipe for scones—a traditional tea food—that called for milk steeped in Earl Grey tea. Lovely. The flavour was terrific and subtle, and the method had me imaging all sorts of flavoured teas/flour-type combos for muffins, cakes, and loaves.

Twinings has an exceptional line of flavoured teas I’ve used in baking. For example, I used Honeybush, Mandarin, and Orange tea in a second batch of scones, to which I added cranberries and cinnamon. They were extremely well received. I’ll try subbing in some almond floor in the next batch.

Handsome cups are one of life’s more affordable luxuries, and make any tea or coffee break more special. A reliable source is Thirty-Six Knots, which has an extremely pretty line of Maxwell Williams cups and teapots. For a cheekier assortment, check out Hue La La

Look to local ceramic artists like Toronto’s Susan Card for distinctive ware. Her Garden Series includes a watercolour-hued, floral cup and saucer set that’s both lovely and practical (microwave/dishwasher safe). Available through Dish Gallery

Art gallery and museum shops are another source. The Gardiner Museum has a terrific collection of mugs under $40, including pieces from the wonderful Departo line Yabu Pushelberg launched in 2019. Over at Craft Ontario, you’ll find tea-time tableware in a collection of work of over 200 material artists and designers.

Today tea-time often includes an aspect of wellness, with purveyors like Harney & Sons offering Hemp and CBD blends. On that note, keep in mind that the correct water temperature is needed to get health benefits and best flavour of certain teas. If you’re a fan of green, white or oolong, for example, consider investing in a variable-temperature kettle. There are affordable options from a variety of brands, from Bodum to Hamilton Beach.

PS: Just saw the news that a polar vortex is expected to arrive in my part of the world in the next few weeks. Really, on top of everything else? Please. Somebody get me a cup of soothing tea.

Pics courtesy of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada.

Vicky Sanderson

A self-confessed Opinion-ista, Vicky Sanderson has been writing and talking about décor, design and lifestyle issues for almost two decades, and has tested just about every home product known to humankind.

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