The next time you or one of your dear friends celebrate her 88th birthday, I highly recommend afternoon tea at the Biltmore Inn located on the Biltmore Estate in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.
You all have been introduced to my dear friend Adele Rose, and on Nov. 24th she turned 88. I say that’s a cause for celebration in grandiose style. Joined by our favorite yoga teacher and friend, Cindy Dollar from One Center Yoga, the three of us arrived promptly for tea at 4:00 p.m.
Seated in the Library of the Inn surrounded by magnificent views of the mountains, Amanda, our server, emerged to place white linen napkins on our lap – or a black linen napkin in my case so I wouldn’t get white lint on my trousers – oh so civilized. Then, our new BFF, Amanda, opened a wooden tea chest displaying samples of loose tea which we sniffed so that we could make the most important decision of the day, choosing the perfect tea.
Me, I was seduced by the Mayan Chocolate Truffle herbal tea, described as a place "where chocolate chips mingle with chunks of chili and red pepper, and bits of apple and strawberry in this stimulating herbal infusion with a sweet finish".
This artisan tea from the Mighty Leaf Tea Company has turned me into a loyal customer, and as soon as I returned home I went online to see if I could order it. Sure enough, I could order not only loose tea but silky tea pouches (not bags) that are stitched with 100% unbleached cotton. I see many boxes of Mayan Chocolate Truffle tea in my future!
Once we decided on our tea, we were served traditional English finger sandwiches, followed by petit fours consisting of scones, lemon cranberry bread, tea pastries, and let’s not forget the lemon curd, strawberry jam, and Devonshire cream so vital to our scones, and oh so civilized!
So, like Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who is often credited as having invented the tradition of afternoon tea in the early 1840’s, we spent several hours sipping tea, dining on petit fours, and enjoying the magnificent view. In honor of the Duchess who was keen on proper tea etiquette, we managed not to spill anything on the table cloth or ourselves.
According to the Duchess, to avoid spilling the hot liquid onto oneself, one must hold the tea cup with one’s fingers to the front and back of the handle with the pinkie held up to allow balance. By the way, pinkie up does not mean straight up in the air, but slightly tilted. And by all means, never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand. Should you be inclined to forget you manners, let me remind you, do not stir your tea with your tea spoon in sweeping circular motions. Place your tea spoon at the six o’clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o’clock position two or three times. And, never never leave your tea spoon in your tea cup. It belongs on the right side of the tea saucer. And of course, never wave or hold your tea cup in the air! When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea saucer, unless you are at a buffet tea, then, be sure to hold the tea saucer in your lap with your left hand and hold the tea cup in your right hand. When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea saucer and hold in your lap. The only time a saucer is raised together with the teacup is when one is at a standing reception. Ok, did you get all that?
Frankly, during tea, we didn’t think twice about the Duchess and her rules of proper tea etiquette, not even for a second, and to be sure, we had a hell of a good time. I think Henry James said it best, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. ~ The Portrait of a Lady