The lost art of afternoon tea

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”

― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Coffee, tea or milk tea? Ilonggos are not obviously big tea drinkers as you can see by the zero number of teahouses in the city. However, most of the coffee shops here offer token hot tea drinks for those who are not caffeine inclined. I love coffee but I would prefer tea any given day. 

I've always been a tea aficionado, collecting Royal Albert teacups or whimsical teapots. I love the sound of a red enamel kettle humming on the kitchen stove and the aroma of homemade sable cookies. I prefer the peace and serenity that a fragrant cup of Earl Grey or Jasmine tea offers. Sipped in solitude  with a good book in hand, a cup of tea soothes an anxious mind or warms the heart on a cold, rainy day. In solitude or in the company of good friends or acquaintances, tea retains its ceremonial, ritualistic attributes requiring proper etiquette and decorum. So when the Etiquette School of Iloilo offered a Bridgerton inspired afternoon tea etiquette class at Mrs. Whartons London Bakes and British Teas, I excitedly jumped at the opportunity! I love themed afternoon tea parties as I have hosted my own Alice in Wonderful tea birthday parties in the past and they were so much fun! As the Madhatter says, "It's always tea time!"

So ten ladies including myself gathered for the  afternoon tea class last Sunday in the hopes of becoming more refined, genteel and confident in the art of tea drinking. I loved the Bridgerton theme as I gravitate towards shabby chic, modern vintage stuff. Honestly, I have yet to see a single episode of Bridgerton on Netflix. As a historical drama, Bridgerton transports us to Regency England, a time where novelist Jane Austen wrote about the landed British gentry as well as the food, fashion, courtship and social customs of the era. No better place to hold a class than in the gated courtyard of Mrs. Wharton's Cake Shop and Cafe at Casa Riviera in Oton, Iloilo. Ms. Ann De Jose, host and etiquette consultant of the Etiquette School of Iloilo gave a hands-on demo and lecture of the rigors of British afternoon tea etiquette. We learned how to properly hold a porcelain  teacup as well as how to partake of the sweet and savory finger foods that are traditionally served such as bite-sized sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream as well as petite tea cakes. Knowing the basics would definitely give the participant the confidence when drinking tea at Savoy in London, TWG Salon in Singapore or maybe at the Peninsula Manila! A lady can dream, can’t she?

It was a very hot, humid Sunday to have an outdoor tea party but we gamely obliged. We enjoyed the delicious Earl Grey tea that our seatmates poured for us as well as the scrumptious egg and tuna savory sandwiches. The scones were baked right although they could have been rounder (I’m very picky about scones!). The mini chocolate buttercream cupcakes and mango cake were perfect. After all, it’s Mrs. Wharton’s cakes!

The best part of the class is that we made new acquaintances with kindred spirits who also love the fine art of tea. I’m also delighted to learn that the cakeshop and cafe is opening a Peggy Porschen inspired floral tea wing for Scones and Clotted Cream by Mrs. Wharton next month! 

Interested in joining the Jane Austen society? Check out the next afternoon tea etiquette class of Etiquette School of IloiloIn the meantime, keep calm and drink more tea!

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