Time for Tea: Victorian Tradition and its Place in THE HEARTBEAT THIEF
Victorian tea time wasn’t always a thing.
Tea has been around for thousands of years. In many cultures, it was customary to share tea with company. Tea was ceremonial, a sacred part of social law.
In England, mealtimes evolved to include two main meals: breakfast and dinner. Dinner became an evening phenomenon, which was held after the work day. In the case of the upper classes, dinner was an event that lasted hours into the night. Afternoon meals tended to light and on-the-go and had no real structure.
What we’ve come to know as “tea time” began with Duchess Anne of Bedford. Anne experienced a “sinking feeling” around three or four o’clock and would ask her maids to sneak her tea and pastries, since supper wouldn’t come until much later in the evening. At first, she had tea alone but eventually the practice was expanded to include her close friends.
Thus, a tradition was born and tea time became a thing. Less food, more talking.
Victorian tea time carried on the tradition of offering tea to guests. Tea was served in wide-mouthed shallow cups (nothing like our 16 ounce paper cups from the coffee shop). That way, tea could be sipped without waiting all afternoon for it to cool (or blowing on it, which could lead to sloppy accidents). Tea time became synonymous with company and socializing and was, in itself, a social event.
And Victorian events were elegant, spectacular things.
It was customary to have tea in the parlor or garden. It provided a chance to show off the hostess’s best china and linens, as well her abilities to command the skills of her kitchen staff.
Tea served not only to quiet the rumblings of a belly, it was food for the social soul. Dishes were customarily light and easy to eat without worry of a catastrophic mess. Eating was a dainty dance in itself.
Tea sandwiches, cakes, scones, biscuits, candies and nuts were usual fare for low tea (named for the low tables around which guests gathered—think “coffee tables” in the living room). I found a website with loads of recipes HERE. I refer to it often when I’m looking to create a special little something.
Trays of snacks were laid out so guests could serve themselves. Affluent hostesses could afford an elaborate tea service such as
(By comparison, my tea service looks like this one. Not quite as shiny J but it makes a perfect pot, every time.) The overall goal of these tea parties was to ensure that guests enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that they completely lose track of time, ensuring the hostess’s graceful place in the hearts and esteem of all invited.
In The Heartbeat Thief our heroine, Senza Fyne, took much comfort in the ritual of tea time. Despite her longer-than-usual life, she never lost her affinity for a well-set tea. It connected her to precious memories of family and friends and times long gone by. Here’s a brief excerpt from The Heartbeat Thief, in which Senza prepares tea for company for the first time in a very, very long time.
The Heartbeat Thief by AJ Krafton
The tea kettle hissed, the steam building up to a whistle. She plucked it off the heat before it could reach full shriek. She didn’t like noise. She’d become far too accustomed to quiet and stillness. It had been ages since she made tea, a proper tea with a full service and decorative sugars. She’d missed the routine.
Grandmother had always taken three lumps of sugar in hers. She’d preferred a Darjeeling, earthy and fragrant, over the milder Assams and startling Keemuns that Father would bring home. Darjeeling, she’d insisted, was an expression of liquid divinity. If you could taste the earth, you could touch the stars.
Be one with everything. Senza blinked, stirring herself from the hazy memory. Grandmother had always told her to live in the moment. Senza seemed only to live in the past.
Wrong moments in which to live.
She rubbed her temple with the bend of her wrist and spooned tea leaves into the pot. Funny that he’d procure a tea service for her in this rustic shanty, a proper set with a silver empress tea strainer and matching sugar and creamer pots. Odd that he’d provide a service for two people, especially since she’d always been completely alone.
Senza arranged the service on a broad silver tray and arranged a spread of biscuits onto a saucer, next to a plate of cucumber and spread cheese sandwiches. A small bowl of candied fruits completed the tea. All had been conveniently located in the small pantry, as if she’d shopped the list on her own.
Stepping back, she surveyed her work. Grandmother would approve. A good host always saw to the tea herself, taking every pain to ensure her guests lost track of the time of day.
Hefting the tray, she carried it into the front room, still startled by its shocking transformation. A small but cozy fire blazed in the simple brick fireplace, near to which an unfamiliar tea table stood. Hand-embroidered flowers trimmed the edge of the linen, matching the elegant bunch of flowers that topped a grey ceramic vase.
Senza enjoyed a small tea in that scene, but I love this post that it shows a full elaborate spread that Senza would really have enjoyed. Now, THAT’S what I call a happy tea time.
Perhaps the next time you’re experiencing a “sinking feeling” you’ll treat yourself to a cup of Darjeeling and a cinnamon scone and have a happy moment to yourself (or, better yet, with a friend). There’s no reason to let go of the past when it’s full of sweet traditions like tea time. No wonder Senza Fyne never surrendered her fondness for the practice, even as the years took everything else away from her, bit by precious bit.
For more images of tea time and the book THE HEARTBEAT THIEF by AJ Krafton, visit this book's Pinterest page!
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Ash Krafton writes New Adult speculative fiction under the pen name AJ Krafton. In addition to THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, Ash is also the author of a growing list of poetry, short stories, and urban fantasy novels.
Currently, she’s working on a new series, THE DEMON WHISPERER. First book, CHARM CITY, can be found on Wattpad.com where you can read it free. Find it here: CHARM CITY on Wattpad.com
Find more to love at www.ashkrafton.com.