On Sunday, June 7, 2020, we had the honor of joining tea enthusiasts from several states to experience the premier tea event of the south: The Garden City Festival Tea to benefit the Sacred Heart Cultural Center in Augusta, GA. Frankly, it would take much more than a pandemic to have kept us away from this "Chocolate Lovers Tea". Surrounded by exquisite tablescapes featuring antique sterling and porcelain tea sets, we dined on cucumber tea sandwiches, chocolate pancetta and smoked ham tea sandwiches, turkey and green apple slaw rye squares with cacao nibs, white chocolate-almond scones, white chocolate mendiats, chocolate peanut butter brownies, chocolate dipped strawberries and coffee creme brulee. Of course, the star of the event was the most divine chocolate tea hand-carried from Peru by our gracious hostess, Mrs. Patty Blanton.
Refilling of the tea pots provided a perfect intermission to discuss silver tea equipage with a few well-curated examples. Dutch traders introduced tea to Europe in 1610, and Thomas Garway first advertised tea in England in 1658. Four years later Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II made tea a fixture of the English court.
Silver is particularly well-suited for the tea ceremony because of its durability and conductivity of heat. Affluent households had two canisters or caddies for black and green tea, often housed in a locking box. The lids not only protected the precious contents of the canister, but also functioned as measures for the leaves. By the mid 1700s, tea pots had evolved from tall, conical forms to lower, globular bodies. Perforated screens at the base of the spouts acted as strainers for the loose leaves. Noting the effects of this caffeine-infused beverage, early doctors cautioned the aristocracy to dilute this strong stimulant with cream or milk, thus introducing the small pitcher or jug to the tea ceremony. Eighteenth century sugar bowls, which were also a fixture in tea consumption, featured a lid topped with a circular ring or foot. This enabled the lid to be inverted and used as a rest for the soiled spoons after use. Most prosperous families acquired tea equipage over a period of time, until the late eighteenth century when matching components or sets became available.
Our delightful afternoon, which concluded far too soon, reminded us the perfect cup of tea: one always longs for more.
For more on the tea ceremony and its equipage, please read Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate in Early Colonial America by renowned author, curator and fellow tea enthusiast, Beth Carver Wees.