An unusual, yet charming place to have Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is one of my favourite treats ever and I’m not only saying that because it’s Afternoon Tea Week! It’s not just the tea and the cakes, but the daintiness of it all, the opportunity to sit down and take some time to be with friends and family, as well as the sense of occasion to it. It’s not every day you have delicate finger sandwiches and elegant cakes arranged on an elegant tiered stand and tea out of fine bone china cups.

If you want to find out more about where the tradition came from, read my previous post. Today, any luxury hotel or accommodation will offer it and I’m sure you’ve been treated to one at least once in your life, but I want to share with you a slightly unusual location that is close to my heart. Held as Oxfordshire’s secret for a long time, Jane’s Teas is no longer a mystery to many and you’d be wise to book in advance – there are no places left for this year!

Set in the heart of the British countryside, amidst the green next to the Kirtlington quarry, is a really charming Afternoon Tea location by the river. Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden is run by the delightful, flamboyant and friendly Jane who was awarded the Small Holder of the Year award in 2009.

What makes it so special?

Jane grows as much as possible in her own garden, including the flowers she puts on every table, to give her produce a real local quality and the taste… mmm… her cakes and scones are just divine! Everything is fresh and produced for the bookings, so I’ll be surprised if there is ever as much as a crumb left.

Entering the garden is like entering a childhood fantasy land with little statues, multi-coloured ribbons floating in the wind, old cups and creamer hung on the rails and in the trees and lots and lots of fairy lights. The atmosphere lives up to the name – enchanted – and it feels as much of a treat as a high-end hotel restaurant just with mix-and-match fine bone china instead. The whole place has a homemade but delicate feel to it and it’s an experience you can’t quite have anywhere else!

How to get there?

My personal recommendation would be to park somewhere at the top of the hill or lane and take the 10 minute walk to the garden on the road. Then, having enjoyed Jane’s scrumptious cakes and goodies, burn some calories by walking along the South Oxford canal through the woods. When you get to the old quarry, take the steps up and you’ll get back to the road where you parked the car.

If you need any proof as to how remarkable this place is, just read the outpour of love on their Facebook page.

Thanks for reading!

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Afternoon Tea is delicious, but what is the history behind it?

The fanciest of china sets, fresh scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam, mini cakes and finger sandwiches. What’s there not to love? The British tradition of Afternoon Tea has certainly seen a rise in popularity recently, but where does it come from? With Afternoon Tea Week just around the corner, it’s time to find out.

Meet Anna, the Duchess of Bedford

It’s the early 19th century and we are at the court of Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Lunch was not a popular meal in the 19th century among the upper classes as they woke up late (around 10am or later) to have breakfast and the main meal of the day would be dinner. However, as lighting the house began to be more efficient, dinner was pushed later and later in the evening and it was believed to be served at 8 o’clock. I would definitely get hungry or peckish in between those two meals, that’s for sure! It is for that reason that Anna (very close to Anca, it must be fate!), the 7th Duchess of Bedford, started taking a small snack and some tea in her room during the afternoon.

As this became a more regular occasion, Anna started inviting her friends over to share the ritual, relax and gossip. Soon enough, the ladies started copying her and so Afternoon Tea was born. You must also know that tea at this time in history was still very expensive, to the point that it was kept in locked tea chests, and drinking it would be a sign of wealth. So as the upper classes adopted the ritual, wearing fine clothes and displaying the finest china, high-end hotels started offering it as a meal, gradually evolving to what it is today during the course of 20th century.

afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason
A birthday treat: enjoying tea in the Diamond Jubilee Salon at Fortnum & Mason

What is the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?

Although you might sometimes see Afternoon Tea described as ‘High Tea’, the two are not to be confused! Traditionally, High Tea is the evening meal that the working classes would have upon returning home from work which included a hearty dish such as a soup or main course, followed by bread, butter, cakes and tea.

This was served at a high table or dinner table, which is where it derives the name from, and it must have appeared much later when tea was no longer exclusive to the upper classes. In contrast, Afternoon Tea was always served on low tables as it was intended as a snack in between meals and it was very much a tradition for the wealthy, who wouldn’t be at work during the afternoon.

What about cream tea?

Cream tea is a lighter alternative to Afternoon Tea in which a pot of tea is served with scones, cream and jam. If you think about it, cream tea is probably much closer to what the Duchess of Bedford would have had rather than the lavish meal it is today.

The origins of this tradition are highly disputed between Devon and Cornwall, two counties in England, where they differ slightly. In Devon’s tradition, the scone is layered with clotted cream first and then jam is spread on top, whereas in Cornwall, the traditional calls for butter, followed by a layer of jam and a spoonful of clotted cream. I personally prefer the Devon method, why add more fat? And even if you skip it, surely you would use the cream as butter and spread it first, right? Each to their own though!

cream-tea-scones
A tantalising cream tea picture from the Cream Tea Society, which shows the Cornish method of serving cream tea.

Afternoon Tea today is still an occasion where we take the time to catch up and relax as it was originally intended. So why not impress your family and friends next time with your newly acquired knowledge?

Stay tuned for my next post for a review of a very unusual afternoon tea location.

Cheerio,
Anca

Tea review: Fortnum & Mason’s black tea with lemon blend

If you’re an avid black tea drinker, that might be all you want to try and I understand that. But why not introduce a bit, a tiny bit, of variety with a citrus twist? Go on, at least while it’s summer! 

Fortnum & Mason has a lovely blend called black tea with lemon. It has a blend of light black teas from China and dried lemon peel from Sicily. Because the lemon is dried, you can even add a splash of milk without risk drinking a cup of curdle, but I prefer a splash of lemon juice instead. It reminds me of holidays in Italy where tea is drank with lemon and those yellow fruits are the most fragrant you’ll ever taste after bathing in the sun of the Mediterranean for the summer. Before I drift too far down memory lane, I’d like to add that black tea with lemon is a lovely companion to afternoon tea. Or if you don’t fancy the whole nine yards, its light and citrusy taste is a great complement to a slice of moist, creamy, chocolate cake or a rocky road, as it allows the sweet treat to be the star and acts like a light refreshment. 


Dry leaves
: malty like a regular black tea though light with a hint of citrus which combined, to me, smells like poppyseed. I actually mean that, not like when wine makers say you should get hints of chocolate in a wine and all you can smell is well…wine, or alcohol.


Water temperature: 100 degrees Celsius

Amount: one teaspoon or 3-4 grams per cup

Brewing time: 4-5 minutes.

Wet leaves: the maltiness is now gone, leaving space for a light scent of almost sweetly roasted notes. For a nature equivalent, it smells to me like a forest after a summer thunderstorm. 


Brew: the comforting familiarity of a regular cup of black tea with a softer touch. The lemon peel makes the liquor just a bit zingy ending every sip on a high without tasting sour or too much of lemon in any way. A very subtle brew indeed! And because it’s a light blend, it can work well as an iced tea too, served with slices of lemon and orange and a few sprigs of mint. 

Ready to try it?

I’ve used Fortnum & Mason’s black tea with lemon but as you can probably imagine, a few tea suppliers will have something similar. This is the one I use and like so I’m sharing with you my favourite but let me know what you think and what gems you find! 

At the time of writing, it’s priced at £7.25 for 120g and the famous F&M tin or you can buy it loose in their stores for slightly cheaper. A bargain!

What’s all the fuss about matcha and green tea?

The world is going through a serious health obsession. One in 5 articles I read has something to do with exercise or eating better, whether that’s 15 reasons why avocados are good for you or the next diet craze, 16:8. I don’t know whether that says more about my reading patterns than the world, but there’s no denying that we have become a lot more aware about how food and drink affects us. And it’s probably about time!

With this health focus, a type of tea has been featured in the press A LOT. Adding matcha to cakes, smoothies or having it as a matcha latte are just some of the examples I’ve seen. But what exactly is it? And why are health, sports and nutrition companies pushing it so much?

A powerhouse of goodness

Matcha is a powdered green tea originating from Japan from a plant called Gyokuro. Because the plant is shaded, it produces more chlorophyll which contributes to enriched antioxidant levels. As opposed to green tea where you steep the leaves and discard them, matcha is mixed with water and ingested, so naturally, one would think it’s better for you. However, studies have been inconclusive on how much our bodies are actually capable of absorbing from this goodness. Inconclusive but not disproving so what are the potential benefits?

Matcha:

  • Has 60x more antioxidants than spinach and 137x more than green tea (source)
  • Offers some protection against heart problems like high blood pressure and cancer development through a powerful antioxidant group called catechins
  • Boosts metabolism, helping you burn up to 25% more fat
  • Increases energy and exercise endurance – the special type of caffeine it contains will give you energy without the side effects of coffee so you’ll have energy for longer without crashing
  • Strengthens the immune systems through the combination of nutrients: Potassium, Vitamins A & C, Iron, Protein, and Calcium.

Isn’t that just green tea though?

Yes, it is, but it’s stronger and it’s more versatile in a powder form. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, quite literally! Matcha has a very strong earthy flavour (a bit like boiled spinach) and in it can be quite bitter to the inexperienced tea drinker. While mixing it into brownies and lattes and smoothies sounds like a good idea, you need to remember that just by adding vitamins to a brownie, it doesn’t make it a healthy brownie, just a better one. You’re still consuming sugar and fat. Also, matcha is a very expensive ingredient to be wasting in baking! 30g could set you back as much as £20, though prices vary on the internet. Sports nutrition company MyProtein sell 100g for £19.99 and it’s organic so it’s unlikely to have lead contamination as that’s a worry with ingesting green tea, particularly from China.


The good news is that regular green tea provides many of the same benefits because at the end of the day matcha is still green tea. So if you don’t find the taste particularly appealing, you can just drink regular green tea. The results might be slightly diminished as you’re not ingesting the leaves, but remember that studies have been inconclusive regarding how much our bodies process by ingesting the stuff.

How do you make a cup of tea using them?

Both matcha and green tea are great. But what all that press doesn’t tell you is that matcha is very bitter. Even for me and I have tea without sugar! So while you’re drinking something healthy because of its many benefits, you will need to add some sort of sweetener (syrup, sugar, honey or whatever you use) which diminishes its nutritional value. Even so, here’s how I use it: mix 1/2 teaspoon with 80-100ml of water. The water should be about 70-80 degrees not boiling, in the same way as green tea. Whisk it until it turns frothy (traditionally done with a bamboo whisk in a warm container). Top up with frothy or ice cold milk depending on the season and preference to make a matcha latte. Or if you’re brave enough, drink it as it is.

And to make a cup of green tea like Green Tea & Apple for example, measure one teaspoon per cup if you make it in a teapot or about 1 1/2 for a mug. Add hot water at 70-80 degrees – my personal trick for that is to stop the kettle from boiling when the bubbles are forming just before it reaches boiling point. Steep for 2-3 minutes, remove the leaves and enjoy!

So whichever one you fancy drinking, or develop a taste for, one thing is for sure: green tea is incredibly good for you and it’s a great way of having a flavoursome drink while avoiding those nasty sweetened drinks and even alcohol!

Avoiding caffeine? You don’t have to give up tea

Here’s a fun fact for you: the tea leaves of camellia sinensis have more caffeine than coffee. However, the process they go through after plucking to become your favourite tea destroys most of it. That’s why a coffee will give you more of a kick than a cup of tea.

But even so, I know many people still avoid having tea altogether because of it, due to health, lifestyle choices or simply because they want something warm to go to bed with without having trouble sleeping afterwards. That doesn’t mean you have to give up all tea for ever though. Just don’t think green tea will help, that actually has more caffeine!

The black alternative: decaf tea

For the traditional tea drinker, a decaf English breakfast blend should go down a treat. This is made using tea leaves that have gone through the same process as black tea and then an additional one to extract the caffeine.

Simply re-using the leaves after a 60 second infusion will get rid of a large part of caffeine, but unfortunately it will also take away the taste and flavour of black teas. That’s why another compound is normally used to take the caffeine out. Some companies use chemicals such as ethyl acetate, but not in such quantities so it becomes dangerous. A more natural alternative is to use CO2 where the leaves are soaked in a liquid solution to release the caffeine.  This is then extracted using charcoal from the resulting solution and the tea leaves are re-soaked to absorb the flavours all over again.

If you ask me, any process is unnatural no matter what method you use, so you might as well go for different blends altogether. 

The herbal variety

If you want a tea that naturally lacks caffeine, you’ll be better off going for a herbal blend. I am a fussy drinker of herbal teas because I hate the ones that always end up tasting like a tart, berry flavour concoction. So I’ve included three very different recommendations that I enjoy, hoping one will tickle your tastebuds!

Chamomile tea
I love a soothing cup of chamomile tea on a chilly evening

Rooibos – the needles of a bush native to South Africa. Most commonly it goes through a process of fermentation after picking (like black tea) which is why I’ve included it in the list of teas you can add milk to. This makes it the perfect substitute if you miss your normal cup of tea but you need to stay off caffeine for a while. Most commonly known as Redbush in the UK (because of the colour), you can also find it in the green variety where the leaves are not fermented and the antioxidants level is higher.

Chamomile – made from the flowers of the chamomile plant and is often thought of as a calming tea. It has a natural sweetness to it (closer to toffee in flavour than to fruit, just not that sweet). It’s also been recently recommended as good for fighting cellulite due to its stress-relieving properties. A bit of a stretch if you ask me but worth a go! What I do know is that chamomile has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties which makes it great for digestive problems such as heartburn and to help alleviate flus and colds or mouth ulcers. 

Lemon verbena – if you’ve had a lemongrass tea before, you’ll know what fresh and citrus taste to expect from this tea. It’s beautifully refreshing and, similarly to chamomile, has many health benefits including a calming effect on stomach issues like cramping and bloating, immune system booster, helps reduce muscle damage after exercise and joint pain. However you must know it’s not recommended for those with kidney problems. 

…and many more! In fact in many countries, like Romania for example, teas are mainly herbal and seen as a form of natural medicine rather than drunk for pleasure. I think they are a bit of both! 

What’s your favourite tea without caffeine? 

Tea review: Green Tea & Apple Blend

After one of my most recent posts on how to recognise good quality tea, I’ll bet you’ll judge my pictures below with fresh eyes!

This review is dedicated to one of my favourite summer teas, which my generous husband indulged me with for my birthday this year. He knows how much I love Fortnum & Mason (which I have nicknamed ‘The Mothership’), so he couldn’t go wrong with buying me one of their teas. And it’s become an instant success.

I also recommend it if you’re just starting to experiment with alternative teas to your regular black cup of tea. A fruity blend is naturally sweetened and more pleasing to the palette so you should find it an easy experiment.

How to enjoy the Green Tea & Apple Blend

Dry leaves: small dark and light green leaves with a potent apple fragrance

Green Tea & Apple blend
Water temperature: 80 degrees (you can use a thermometer or you can wait until the bubbles start to form and stop it). Always use freshly poured water!

Amount: 3-4g or a teaspoon per cup. Hunt for some apple pieces too for a flavourful brew, or double up the quantity if you’re making ice tea (recipe for that here).

Brewing time: 2-3 minutes

Wet leaves: expanded light green leaves, with a fresh, dewy aroma and a slight fruity tone. You’ll notice the dry leaves smell much stronger of apple. It’s common for many fruit and flower blends that the scent is stronger before undergoing the brewing process.

Green Tea & Apple blend
Brew: Fresh and zingy, this tea has the familiar earthy or grassy taste of a green tea with a sweet and sour fruity twist. The apple flavour is actually a lot milder than you might expect, but it complements the green tea beautifully, livening it up a bit. And it’s a brilliant ice tea blend!

Green Tea & Apple blend infusion

Ready to try it?

Of course, green tea and apple is not the exclusive blend of a particular company, so you might be able to find it from your favourite supplier. The one I’ve use for this post and love is from Fortnum & Mason, priced at £6.25 per 125g (at the time of writing) – it should be enough for at least 30 cups.

Which teas can you add milk to?

Perhaps one of the reasons why tea and coffee are such popular drinks is that they are a blank canvas. You can have them hot or cold (try my recipe for a refreshing ice tea), with a little milk, a lot or no milk at all, frothed or not, with one, two or however many spoons of sugar you prefer, or perhaps you’re the special syrup type of drinker.

One of the founders in the company I work for has a T-shirt with his tea preference. Many people get customised mugs with it. Everyone has their preference. My mum loves a vanilla latte. I, as you’ve probably guessed from the title, like my black tea with milk and no sugar. Though I like white tea too so I’ve been a bit cheeky there!

Milk first or last?

The habit of starting with milk comes from the time when Westerners first discovered the pleasure of drinking tea. They poured milk in first to prevent their fine bone china or porcelain from breaking when the boiling tea was added from the teapot. Times have changed though, many people now make tea directly in cups and mugs which are much stronger. And unless you know what you’re doing, you can ruin a good cup of tea by adding too much of the white stuff. I recommend adjusting the milk ratio after the tea is prepared.

Black tea but not all of it!

Now that you know there is more to tea than a builder’s brew, it’s time to introduce you to tea varieties. Depending on where the teas are grown and when they are picked, tea leaves have a certain aroma, flavour and stregth. They can be consumed as a standalone variety or in a blend – the way most people prefer them. Take the popular English Breakfast for example – it’s a blend of three varieties: Kenyan for colour, Assam for strength, body and maltiness and Ceylon for aroma and adding complexity to the flavour. It really does sound like a recipe for success, no wonder Queen Victoria loved it so much.

Out of those three, it’s the Assam that has a full enough body to hold the blend’s taste when milk is added. Otherwise you’d just taste a watered down version of milk. So, which teas and blends are suitable?

  • Add milk to: Breakfast blends like English Breakfast (also Irish, Melbourne, etc.), Assam, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong.
  • Don’t add milk to Darjeeling, Ceylon, Afternoon tea, Earl or Lady Grey.
Melbourne Breakfast from T2 with milk is one of my hubby’s favourite teas

​​​Rooibos or Redbush

If your personal preference is to stay off caffeine, you can still enjoy a milky tea. Try Rooibos or Redbush – a South African herbal tea that is made with the needles of a bush. It’s similar in colour and flavour to an English Breakfast (as similar as a herbal tea can be) and it holds its own well with a splash of milk.

Vanilla Rooibos Dragonfly Tea with milk

Matcha – the new health craze

A very popular drink with the health conscious at the moment, matcha is the powdered form of special green tea bushes, such as Gyokuro, from Japan that are grown shaded from the sun. Japanese green teas are generally really earthy, a bit like the taste of boiled spinach, and this one is no exception. The traditional way of preparing it is using a bamboo whisk to blend it with water. However, Westerners prefer to add it to smoothies and cakes for an antioxidant kick, or to mix it with frothed milk as an alternative to a latte. Because of its strong, bitter taste, it’s probably the only type of tea that I like to add honey or a lemony syrup to. I’ve never tried cooking with it before, but I’ll do some experiments and let you know!

That’s it! Don’t add milk to green, white, Oolong or other herbal teas as they won’t hold their flavour. Also, if you normally add lemon to your tea (a popular habit in Europe), avoid adding milk as well as you’ll end up with a curdled mess!

Until next time!