Sylvia Hosts Afternoon Tea

Sylvia is one of my neighborhood girlfriends of whom I am highly enamored. Not just because she’s British and I’m obviously an Anglophile who adores afternoon tea, Agatha Christie and Henry Cavill (not necessarily in that order). Nor only because her twin daughters are my first choice when I need to entrust my kids to a babysitter. And definitely not least of all because she is an upcycler who creates beautiful trash-to-treasure furniture makeovers (see how she transformed the mirror pictured below). She’s just herself at all times, that’s what I admire most about her. She is direct, fun and possibly most importantly, Sylvia does a killer Olivia-Newton-John-starring-in-Grease performance at karaoke.

Sylvia pours at afternoon tea
Sylvia pours out her go-to tea — Yorkshire — kept warm with an inherited knit tea cozy.

When Sylvia learned that I was working on Destination Tea and had become obsessed with the tradition of afternoon tea, she declared that upon the completion of her dining room’s redecorating, we were invited to an afternoon tea in proper British style, chez Sylvia. True to her word, when the project was complete, invitations to tea at Sylvia’s went out.

Sylvia's tea table at afternoon tea
Sylvia sets an elegant tea table, with tea treats at the ready.

Upon entering Sylvia’s new dining room, I am impressed. Knowing the work that goes into putting together an afternoon tea — from tablescaping to baking — I am touched by Sylvia’s efforts. The centerpiece of freshly picked greenery with bright red berries catches my eye, as well as each unique teacup and saucer, inspiring a round of my private teatime game, “My Favorite Teacup” (winners pictured below).

Pitcher centerpiece at afternoon tea at Sylvia's
Decorating with nature’s winter bounty
Sylvia's teacups
Look at how this flower mirrors itself on cup and saucer – beautiful!
Sylvia collected these cups one by one. See the peacocks on this one?
This Johnson Brothers sugar bowl is from their “Coaching Scenes” series, made in 1970s England. Love the detail in the scene that carries all the way up to the lid handle.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

One big surprise is that Sylvia reports she did some research to plan this afternoon tea, because in England today, you’d find this kind of three-course tea meal served mainly in restaurants. So while we carry on in the States with our elaborate tea parties, in Britain, where this custom originated, Sylvia says it is no longer common practice to serve the afternoon tea meal at home. Millie Smith, of the former Florida cafe The English Rose Havana, confirms this in a prior Facebook comment, “For a very casual tea round a friend’s house, you would have a tin on the table with a variety of biscuits in it, and a whole Victoria sandwich cake. There wouldn’t usually be any savoury items.” So we are fortunate indeed that Sylvia decides to treat us to the sort of afternoon tea you might experience in a high society parlor in 1800s England (which leads to a conversation on how “high tea” is a misnomer for this meal).

Sylvia serves traditional tea sandwiches on white bread: egg, salmon and cucumber.
scones at afternoon tea at Sylvia's
Preserves and Devon clotted cream are ready for spreading on Sylvia’s homemade scones.
For dessert, Sylvia serves the iconic British dessert — Jaffa Cakes — created in 1920s UK and named after the Jaffa orange. Several of us become instant fans of these sponge cakes filled with sweet orange jelly and dipped in chocolate. Sylvia has also made her own mini mince pies! Mincemeat pies have been a standard British Christmas recipe ever since the 1500s, when they still included meat filling, but today are made with dried fruits, sugar, spices and brandy filling.

The best part of this lovely experience is of course, the friendship and laughs we share around Sylvia’s table. I treasure each of these women who, as we walk the path of motherhood and middle-age together, are there to counsel, relate, encourage and cheer one another. Thank you Sylvia, for all the hard work you put into giving us this beautiful time together! This is what afternoon tea is all about.

DestinationTea
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

4 Comments

  1. What a lovely write up and photos – as always. You make my baking look good! As you say, the best thing about afternoon tea is gathering good friends together and enjoying their company into the evening. It was so much fun!

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