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Archive for June, 2007

High (or Low!) Tea in Georgia

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

May/June 2007

By Laura C. Martin

There’s no question about it, tea is hot. From the Ritz to the grocery store, people are showing up for a cup or a bottle of tea. Other than water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. People are drinking tea as if it is the newest drink in town. On the contrary, tea has been enjoyed since 300 C.E. or, if you believe the legend, since about 3000 BCE when the mythical leader, Shen Nong, first tasted this most beloved of beverages.

The history of tea, as a meal and a social occasion is much more recent, dating back to the early 19th Century when Anna Maria Stanhope, Duchess of Bedford (and wife of the seventh duke) apparently often experienced what was commonly called “a sinking feeling” between lunch and the evening meal. Thinking that a little sustenance might help, she began drinking tea and nibbling small savory treats in the late afternoon. Soon her friends joined her and the idea spread throughout the aristocracy, then onto the commoners as well. Eventually, everybody in England, from the prince to the pauper, stopped what they were doing in the late of the afternoon to enjoy a cup of tea and a bite to eat.

Tea time was different, of course, for different folks and the designations of “high tea” and “low tea” eventually evolved in Britain. The original terms meant quite the opposite to how we use them in the United States today. We associate “high tea” with high society and put out a spread fit for a queen. Originally, though, high tea was a term used to describe less of a social occasion and more of a family meal. Low tea was actually the high falutin feast. Low tea was served to guests in a formal room. Everyone sat in armchairs or sofas and tea and fancy tidbits were served on a low table beside them. The food served was bite sized for ease of eating. Thus the term “low” tea originated from the height of the low table on which it was served.

High tea was generally served at a (high) kitchen table with a full place setting around 5:30 or 6 p.m. when workers returned from the fields and children came home from school. High tea, sometimes called “meat tea” included savory meats, soups, puddings and sweets and lots of robust tea.

Whether you take it high or low, with a hearty meat sandwich or a delicate shortbread cookie, tea is gaining in popularity throughout our state. While “tea” to southerners used to mean a glass of instant powder mixed with water and enough sugar to hold a spoon upright, our taste for this “dew of heaven” (as Lu-Yu, the eighth century tea master called it) has evolved into something a little more sophisticated and today connoisseurs are calling for the finest teas from around the world.

Like the Duchess of Bedford, many of us suffer from a “sinking spell” during the middle of the afternoon and, like the Duchess, many of us benefit greatly from a “spot of tea.” The idea for stopping for a cup, bottle, or glass of tea in the middle of the afternoon may seem a bit archaic to fast paced American “type A” businessmen, soccer Moms and students who are more accustomed to chugging down coffee or sodas to keep the energy level up, but, once initiated into a routine, it becomes a much anticipated part of the afternoon. Just stopping for a few moments (to do anything!) is beneficial all in itself but stopping to fix a cup of tea, sitting down to sip and actually taste what you’re drinking brings on a whole new wave of benefits.

The idea of Tea, as a meal, occasion and an opportunity to get together with friends is also becoming more and more enticing, evidenced by the number of restaurants throughout the state which offer such a meal. The Tea Guide, an online tea room directory, lists 63 restaurants and tea houses in the state of Georgia which offer or specialize in tea the drink and tea the meal

The most well known afternoon tea events are produced and directed by the Ritz Carlton hotels. Sandra Ryder, Area Director for Public Relations for the Ritz Carlton, says that tea is served in the English tradition and is steeped in individual teapots at the guests’ table, then poured through a sterling silver strainer into Wedgwood teacups.

“Afternoon tea is not fast food,” she says. “You just cannot sip tea quickly.”

The slow pace of the meal lends itself to a feeling of elegance and indulgence. The Ritz and other restaurants have found that creating the right ambiance is as essential to the enjoyment of tea as the drink itself. At the Buckhead Ritz, wood paneled walls, hand-woven rugs and fine art make it look more like the living room of an elegant, private home than a commercial space.

Guests respond in kind. “Our guests tend to dress up a bit for tea,” says Ryder. “I think it is all a part of enjoying lovely moments.”

At many restaurants, the food served at afternoon tea combines tradition with current trends. The old-fashioned cucumber sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off are now served side by side with such trendy favorites as cumin-lime marinated shrimp and smoked salmon and asparagus. The plain scones of yesteryears are now updated with blueberries and ginger.

The kinds of teas served have changed over the years as well. Before World War II, 40 percent of the tea drunk in the United States was green tea. With supplies from Japan and China interrupted by the War, tea drinkers in the U.S. switched allegiance to India black teas. This trend has only recently begun to reverse again, as a result of much publicity over the health benefits of drinking green tea.

“Interest in varieties of teas has certainly grown; we added green teas and tisanes (which are not actually teas but infusions of fruits and herbs) several years ago,” says Ryder. “In spite of it all, though, Earl Grey continues to be the most popular.”

Tea is a fascinating combination of trend and tradition. There is an aura about tea and the serving of tea that is only rivaled, perhaps, by the serving of wine. To sit and sip a cup of tea, whether amid the elegance of the Ritz or the more mundane surroundings of your own office, or anywhere in between, is to connect with thousands of years of history and millions of people across the globe who delight in the taste of tea.

Laura C. Martin is the author of the new book, Tea: The Drink That Changed the World

TEA: The Drink That Changed the World

For more than two thousand years, tea has calmed us and awoken us, fascinated us and driven us. After water, it is the second most popular drink in the world! How has this simple brew made such a profound impact on so many people and places, regardless of whether or not we drink it?

Tea: The Drink That Changed the World is an engaging and offbeat exploration of the rise of tea around the world. From a harsh, bitter concoction originally used for medicinal purposes to its rise to global power and impact on the world today, this simple leaf is anything but simple. Tea has served as a meditation tool, a form of currency, and a motivation for political change. It has touched our lives like no other beverage, connecting us all�from the Mongols to the monks, from the pluckers to the emperors, to the harried modern-day person looking for a moment of calm. A timely look at the history of this seemingly innocuous beverage, Tea: The Drink That Changed the World is a fascinating account, full of anecdotes and practical information on a drink enjoyed by billions the world over.

About the Author

Laura C. Martin is an award-winning author of more than twenty books on gardening, nature and crafts. She is currently garden editor for Georgia Magazine, and has written for publications ranging from American Horticulturist to Better Homes & Gardens. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Popular Non-Alcoholic Beverage Options

Tea is not alone in gaining popularity in the beverage world. Although carbonated soft drinks still dominate the U.S. beverage market, change is in the air � or perhaps in the teacup. With consumers more eager to make choices based on health and nutrition, non-alcoholic beverages are quickly gaining in popularity.

“The liquid refreshment beverage market is being driven by the health and wellness trend,” says Michael Bellas, Chairman and Chief Executive of Beverage Marketing Corporation.

One example of this is the sale of energy drinks in the U.S., which grew by 50 percent during 2006. The sale of bottled water grew by 10 percent.

The greatest trends see an increase in healthy, natural, single portion drinks. The interest in “buying healthy” includes buying organic products and buying the so called “superfruits” such as pomegranate and cranberries, which are full of antioxidants.

Tea, particularly in the one serving bottle, is rapidly gaining in popularity. Tea not only has the desired antioxidants, it also has fewer calories. (Of course, loaded with sugar or other sweeteners, tea can be just as expensive in calories as fruit juice or other sweet drinks.)

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21st — Cystic Fibrosis Foundation “Chocolate! 2007.”

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Held at Villa Christina. (404) 325-6973. www.chocolateforcf.org.

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9th -11th — World Tea Expo

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

at the Georgia World Congress Center. www.worldteaexpo.com/

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9th — Taste of Brookhaven

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

benefits the Brookhaven Arts Alliance mission. To be held at Oglethorpe University – Conant Performing Arts Center. (404) 266-3426. www.brookhavenartsalliance.com.

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8th — 23rd Annual March of Dimes “Dining Out”

Friday, June 8th, 2007

event at participating premier Atlanta restaurants. Benefits the March of Dimes Georgia chapter. (404) 350-9800. www.marchofdimes.com/georgia

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1st -3rd — The Great American Desert Expo and the Coffee and Dessert Expo

Friday, June 1st, 2007

at the Cobb Galleria Convention Centre, Hall A and B. www.dessertexpo.com. www.coffeefest.com.

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