Tea Time with Jayne Withers

The native brit, author, and dining etiquette coach helps neophytes navigate a 200-year-old tradition with poise and confidence

194
Jayne Withers teaches all ages about British etiquette, tea, and food presentation. Photography by Steven Martine
Jayne Withers teaches all ages about British etiquette, tea, and food presentation. Photography by Steven Martine

As a child growing up in Lancashire, England, and later as a student at Cambridge University, Jayne Withers relished the tradition of afternoon tea.

“In Britain, children might have tea when they come home from school or go out for tea with a grandparent,” she observes. “When I went to Cambridge, it was quite common to invite someone to tea in the afternoon. There were no cell phones back then, so it was an opportunity to talk to fellow students. If someone popped in to see you, the first thing you did was put the kettle on. If someone was celebrating something or needed cheering up, you put the kettle on. It’s our answer to everything.”

Now, with her feet planted firmly in Vero Beach, Withers keeps the kettle on while keeping a 200-year-old tradition alive at Sealantro British Café and Market, which she co-owns and operates with her husband, Executive Chef Michael Clifford. Formerly located in the mainland’s Miracle Mile area, the business now offers a complete authentic afternoon tea along with homemade British pies, baked goods, and imported grocery items for delivery.

Jennifer Rinella and Allison Vecchio have fun during a tea party hosted by Sealantro
Jennifer Rinella and Allison Vecchio have fun during a tea party hosted by Sealantro.

For those interested in hosting an afternoon tea, Withers provides everything you need, right down to the vintage teapots, bone china, and multitiered tea trays. The menu includes an assortment of imported teas from local purveyor Tea & Chi, dainty finger sandwiches, scones slathered with clotted cream and jam, and sinfully rich French macarons, petit fours, and Victoria Sponge Cake. Everything is prepared in the British tradition—right down to the clotted cream. “We do the whole kit and caboodle,” says Withers, “from setup and serving to cleanup. Orders can be made online or with a phone call.”

When asked to explain the growing popularity of her afternoon teas, Withers doesn’t miss a beat in replying, “In a world gone mad, it’s nice to come here and get a bit of civility.” Civility—especially when it comes to dining—is something Withers has been championing throughout her career as a travel wellness consultant, dining etiquette coach, and restaurateur. Her afternoon tea etiquette and general dining etiquette classes for both children and adults are well attended and often sold out.

“As more people embrace the idea of afternoon tea, they also have many questions about navigating the process,” observes Withers. Providing that proper guidance became the impetus behind her latest book, A Companion Guide to Afternoon Tea, slated for publication this summer. In it, she offers some practical tea etiquette tips.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of Lilly Pulitzer lovers gathered for an afternoon tea hosted by Sealantro. As one would expect, pink was prevalent, even in the teacups, which held a pineapple, coconut, and hibiscus blend called Snow in the Tropics.

Allow 90 minutes for afternoon tea. “It’s meant to be taken without haste and with consideration for your companions,” says Withers.
Allow 90 minutes for afternoon tea. “It’s meant to be taken without haste and with consideration for your companions,” says Withers.

The Origins of Afternoon Tea

The British were primarily a nation of coffee drinkers until 1662, when King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine de Braganza, who regularly drank tea with breakfast. The practice soon spread throughout her court and among the wealthy classes in Britain. In 1840, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, initiated the practice of afternoon tea. By all accounts, the duchess became hungry between lunch and dinner and asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cakes be sent to her quarters. Before long, she invited friends to join her for tea and treats in the afternoon, and a daily habit was born.

Food served on multitiered tea trays should be consumed from the bottom up, starting with finger sandwiches
Food served on multitiered tea trays should be consumed from the bottom up, starting with finger sandwiches.

Afternoon Tea Scones

Serves 8–12

Ingredients

Plain Scones

  • 3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Extra flour for rolling

Fruit Scones

Add 3/4 cup of dried fruit to the dry mixture before incorporating the milk. Golden raisins are traditional.

Cheese Scones

Omit sugar. Add a cup of cheddar to the dry mixture. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle more cheese on top. Bake 2 minutes more.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for a conventional oven or 400 degrees Fahrenheit for a convection oven.

Process flour and butter together in a food processor or combine butter into the flour with your hands until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Put mixture in a large bowl. Add sugar and salt. Stir with a spatula.

Make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour milk into the well and gradually work
it into the flour until dough is firm. Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead lightly. Roll out until dough is 1 1/2 inches thick.
Use a 2–2 1/2-inch round cutter to form the scones. Re-knead, roll, and cut scraps of dough until it is used.

Brush tops of scones with milk. Bake for 12 minutes.

Recipes from Jayne Withers, A Companion Guide to Afternoon Tea, Copyright 2023, Story Farm. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Victoria Sponge Cake

“Named for the illustrious queen herself, who was said to eat this cake every day. That may or may not explain her shape, but I like to think that it did fuel her to rule a rather large empire. May we all eat more cake and rule our worlds accordingly.” – Jayne Withers

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/8 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • Strawberry jam
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp. powdered sugar

Preparation

Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix the butter and sugar in an electric stand mixer or use a hand whisk. Once thoroughly incorporated, add the eggs one at a time, on low speed. Increase speed to high and mix well. Work in the flour.

Divide the batter equally between the two cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Remove cakes from pans and spread jam on the inside surface of each.

Mix heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar with a high-speed blender to form stiff peaks. Spread cream on the bottom cake only, then top with the other cake half. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Why It’s Cool to Drink Hot Tea on a Hot Day

It may seem counterintuitive to drink hot tea on a hot afternoon, but as Peter McNaughton, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, explains, the hot beverage activates your body’s systemic cooling mechanisms and causes you to perspire. As perspiration evaporates, it helps you cool down. People living in hot climates, such as India and Africa, regularly drink hot tea to stay cool.
Alyssa Curtis demonstrates the proper way of sipping tea
Alyssa Curtis demonstrates the proper way of sipping tea.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Afternoon Tea

Do

Allow 90 minutes for afternoon tea. “It’s meant to be taken without haste and with consideration for your companions,” says Withers. “This is why it’s so beneficial for children. It reinforces a multitude of skills, including confidence in social situations, good manners, motor skills, patience, sharing, and conversation.”

Start at the bottom tier by eating the finger sandwiches. Work your way up to the second tier of scones, clotted cream, and jam when you and your companions have eaten a sufficient number of sandwiches. Then, proceed to the third tier.

Pick up the sandwiches and scones with your fingers.The place setting should have no more than a teaspoon, butter knife, and possibly a fork for cake at the third tier.

 Break open the scone horizontally with your fingers. You can spread both jam and clotted cream on one side of the scone in any order you prefer.

Use loose tea. It tastes much better.

Stir the tea gently (if adding milk, sugar, or honey) to avoid cracking delicate china. Use a pushing rather than a stirring motion.

Use vintage china. Withers scours local thrift and consignment shops for vintage teapots and china.

Hold the handle of the teacup to the right (unless you are left-handed). Replace the cup in the saucer after drinking. Keep the cup and saucer to the right of the place setting.

Be gracious and eat. It’s rude to leave the food un-touched.

Take leftovers only if they are untouched.

Use vintage china. Withers scours local thrift and con- signment shops for vintage teapots and china
Use vintage china. Withers scours local thrift and consignment shops for vintage teapots and china.

Don’t

Put tea in a coffeepot. It will taste like coffee.

Put milk in the teacup before the tea. It was a common practice to prevent the hot liquid from cracking poor-quality china. Now, adding milk after the tea helps balance the strength of the brew.

Put hot milk, cream, or lemon in your tea. Hot milk and lemon are not recommended, and cream is too heavy for tea.

Put ice cubes or cold water in your tea. If it’s too hot, be patient and let it cool.

Use fancy cookie cutter shapes to make finger sandwiches. Make them in triangles, squares, or fingers (rectangles).

Pile everything on your plate at once. Take two sandwiches and allow your companion to do the same.

Pronounce scone with a long “o.” The proper pronunciation is “scon.”

Dunk your scone into your tea or make a clotted cream and jam 2023 sandwich with your scone.

Facebook Comments