There were scones smeared pink and white with clotted cream and dabs of raspberry jam. Tea sandwiches spread with watercress, salmon or egg salad. Fruit breads. Custard-filled tarts that were surely too small to be fattening. And other tasty things, so many that Samuel Twining, ninth generation of the Twining Tea family held up his hand to shoo away the waitress. Sated at last.
On food. Not, however, on tea, a subject that has kept his family humming since 1706 when Thomas, the first tea Twining, opened a shop at the sign of the Golden Lion in the Strand.
Samuel Twining was here from London to encourage Americans to drink more tea. The United States is fifth among the 90 countries to which the firm exports tea. If Americans realize that France, whose people one would expect to find wining rather than Twining, is enjoying the top spot, our pride surely will make us drink tea with the same gusto we once brought to tossing it into Boston Harbor.
Once we have turned ourselves into a nation of tea drinkers, we can celebrate with a tea dance, a form of entertainment that is having a revival in London and New York.
A tea dance is a very pretty thing.
"We have lots of flowers and Victorian antiques," says Tom Jones, a member of the board of trustees of The Victorian Society Scholarship Fund, which has given an annual benefit tea dance in New York for the last seven years. The fund's "wonderfully anachronistic party" is very popular: 140 people came to the first dance; the one that was held recently at the 7th Regiment Armory drew 700. With an elaborate tea buffet, a trio for dancing and a waiter circulating through the crowd with champagne, guests were able to choose whether to make the event, held between 5:30 and 8 p.m., the whole evening or the evening opener. "Some make it dinner and others go on to a dinner afterward," says Jones.
The time taken by a tea dance also might make it popular in Washington. Jeff Ellis of Ridgewell's Caterers mentions that, "It's quick and leaves you free for a later party. If someone wants to be daring, they could bring back high teas and tea dances."
The wonder is that a city that already has congealed around the breakfast meeting has let the crucial hours between 4 and 7 p.m. get away. "Washington works every party," Ellis points out, and people might find it less taxing on their livers to waltz from a tea dance to a dinner party than to stop first for cocktails.
High tea and the tea dance are not just quick and pretty parties: They are a great deal cheaper than anteing up for an open bar. Tastier, too.
"We have miniature scones filled with jam, glace'ed or chocolate-dipped fruits, ham biscuits, tea sandwiches, pastries, breads and cakes," says Stacy DeLano, whose catering firm Movable Feast has a 10-person minimum for teas. ($3 per person plus $20 delivery charge for a no-frills tea.)
If you decide to give a tea or tea dance to celebrate the season's graduations and weddings, and if you decide to do it yourself, Elizabeth Hallett's Hostess Book printed in England in 1937 suggests that for 100 guests you prepare the following quantities:
Scones, 70 to 100; small sandwiches, 200; biscuits, 30; large fruit cakes, 3; large fancy cakes, 3 to 4; small cakes, 70 to 100; ices, 3 quarts; tea, 1 1/2 pounds; sugar, 5 to 6 pounds; butter, 2 to 3 pounds; cream, 1 to 2 pints; milk, 2 to 3 quarts, plus wedding (or graduation) cake to serve 100 and, if you choose to serve them, champagne, punch or lemonade.
And, of course, beg, borrow or steal white lace cloths and garland the party with flowers.