The USC Upstate honors students donned their “Sunday best” to attend an authentic British afternoon tea on Monday, October 1. Students and faculty were treated to cucumber, watercress, and smoked salmon sandwiches, scones with butter, jelly, and clotted crème, and assorted British pastries such as Victorian cake, flapjacks, meringues and shortbread, while surrounded by fresh flowers, bone china, and British knick-knacks.
Dr. Charles Harrington, senior vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, welcomed the attendees and gave a brief background on the place of tea in the world. Dr. Harrington was followed by Karen Thomas, the administrative assistant to the dean of students and a native of Cornwall, England, who provided a running commentary on the history of the English tea, the correct procedure for brewing the perfect “cuppa” tea, and the proper protocol for enjoying the tea and its attendant goodies.
The students learned such historical tidbits as the fact that High Tea was not so named because it was consumed by the aristocrats of England. It was actually invented for the miners as a substantial meal to tide them over until their late dinner. It was called “high” tea because the miners sat on “high” stools to consume it. Conversely, “low teas” were served on low chairs.
Students also learned that “Afternoon Tea,” the quintessential English ritual (“Every English home has a teapot,” says Ms. Thomas) actually began with Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. The usual habit of serving dinner as late as 9 p.m. left the duchess hungry in the late afternoon. To stave off the hunger she would order tea, bread, butter and cakes to be served in her room. Because the duchess was associated with Queen Victoria, and because others in the court were equally hungry, the habit of tea and snacks in the afternoon quickly spread, and soon became a habit, and a beloved one, throughout the British Isles.
Ms. Thomas, by her own admission, is passionate on the subject of teas, and in addition to instructing the students, displayed her vast collections of teapots and cups, and even prepared two of the pastries – the Victorian cake and the flapjacks.
The British Afternoon Tea is the first of several “World Culture Experiences” that the USC Upstate Honor’s Program will host throughout the year. The students and faculty who attended pronounced it a “great success,” “very interesting,” and “absolutely delicious!”