Learning From Tea Time
10 Dec, 2010
Let me make your weekend plans for you. One way or another, they should include a reservation for Victorian Tea at the Pfister. I’ve been to London a couple of times, but the last visit included an endless hunt for the perfect “high tea” with a friend. The hijinks that ensued made it a memorable experience and of course we ate all our little cakes, but it wasn’t the full, austere, formal experience we had always thought tea to be.
Making up for it, two friends and I recently had tea at the Pfister. My anglophile companions and I were moved from the moment we walked into Blu and met Juan, the tea butler. Admittedly, walking into Blu with its amazing panoramic view of the city is a breathtaking gesture in the first place, but the rigor and grace of a perfect British tea only added to the atmosphere.
After being seated, we were presented with a worldly selection of teas and their history, vibrancy, scents and stories. Each was uncapped from its jar, passed delicately around the table for smelling and returned again to its station on the silver serving tray. It’s worth noting, Lipton ain’t got nothin’ on Juan. It wasn’t just his knowledge of the teas that made his service impeccable. Nor was it his honest assessment of our choices of fruit and spice infusions to be added to the teas. What we each noticed about the presentation was the time and care in every gesture, every description and every piece of the event. And it was an event, which is exactly what afternoon tea should be. Though the teas were indescribably delicious and the sweet and savory trays so scrumptious that they were too few, in the humble opinion of we omnivores, the process of the afternoon is what moved us.
Each piece of the event was a part of the experience. John, also helping with our table, and Juan moved slowly and deliberately. They spoke carefully to us and saw to our every request. The delicacies weren’t just the food bites on the table, but also the treatments and services bestowed upon us as we sat there.
I constantly joke with friends that Prince William made the wrong choice in proposing to Kate Middleton, not me. Sitting at tea, with close friends, watching the sun set on the city and being treated as a royal, however, more than satisfied my need to elope with a prince.
Often, in our every day lives, we miss out on such treatments. When someone asks you “how are you?” we all take the question as a standard, uttered too quickly, with little intent and no desire for an answer. What the tea service made us all conscious of was how we do not deliberately use time. There are rules to how you use time. There’s a benefit to slow, thoughtful consideration of ideas in speaking, in sitting, even in steeping tea. But steep the tea too long, it becomes pungent and too strong.
The afternoon wasn’t just girlfriends chatting and cakes being eaten. It was a lesson exemplified in the process of tea. Time is your friend and careful use of it bestows many benefits; but the lesson isn’t to always slow down. Rather, thoughtful attention to details allows you to steep and become delicious, not overbearing.