Divide into Sophistication
The divide between the United States and England appears in more than just the negative connotation of tea. The presentation of tea and the sophistication surround it also demonstrate the divide between both cultures. In the nineteenth century, British tea was generally served with sandwiches, scones, cakes, and an occasional elaborate dessert. On the other hand, in America tea was generally served with more savory dishes, such as jellied chicken, cold “Turkish” tongue, crab croquettes, caviar toast, etc. Presently, this divide can still be seen as American tea is often arranged with a much wider range of soups and sweets than those tea tables of England.
Similar to the beginning of all tea traditions, the beginning of the tea party is a story from history. It was supposedly invented in the 1840s by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, when she was staying at the castle of the fifth Duke of Rutland. During this time, people would eat large breakfasts and dinner, but only a light lunch. This left one’s blood sugar plummeting around four in the afternoon. Therefore, one can understand Anna complaining about a “sinking feeling” in the afternoons.
Soon, she began requesting snacks, such as tea and cakes, to be sent to her room during the afternoon. She enjoyed this routine so much that she began to invite her close friends. From there, it did not take long for these gatherings to matriculate into an established tradition of many upper class and middle class families.
The rise of tea was first associated with the upper class; therefore, it has always been associated with sophistication. Afternoon tea became increasingly popular during the nineteenth century, when both British and American women enjoyed entertaining both friends and neighbors. These meetings were always were accompanied by fine porcelains, silver teapots and kettles, lace cloths, and, of course, perfect manners. Tea parties were innately elegant, refined, and feminine.
Tea parties soon had rules which both hosts and guests needed to follow. Books on etiquette instructed the host on how to set the table, which foods to serve, and what clothing should be worn. For instance, The American System of Cookery, by Mrs. T.J. Crowen detailed explicitly how one should set a tea table for summer and for winter.
For summer, one should “… let the dish of ripe or stewed fruit be set. … On either side, at some little distance from it, let there be plates, with bread sliced, about the eighth of an inch in thickness; or let one dish be of hot wigs, or rusk, or tea-biscuit. Let a fine mould of butter occupy the centre of the table; let its knife be beside it; and on each side a small plate, the one with cold meat, ham, or tongue, sliced thin, (and a fork to help it;) the other with sliced cheese, or a fresh pot-cheese.” (Crowen 1847).
For winter, there should be “Oysters pickled, in the place of cold meat, or stewed in the place of fruit, or instead of the stew, a bit of broiled fish, or ham or fried oysters, with hot tea-biscuits and rusks or wigs, and stewed or preserved fruit, and fancy cakes. Grated cocoanut, with tart preserves, or currant jelly, or cranberry jam, may be served thus: grate the white meat of a cocoanut, and put it in a flat glass dish, then turn a mould of jelly upon the middle of it.”(Crowen 1847).