Time For Tea
Our sweet and savory ideas make this afternoon tradition a special treat

By Lynne Eppel
Photos by Rita Maas

What could be more comforting on a chilly day than friends enjoying easy conversation while gathered around steaming pots of tea and trays laden with delightful finger foods? Welcome to the tradition of afternoon tea, a social event that’s making a comeback.

4 steps to great tea

  1. Use fresh, cold, bottled water, or use tap water that has run at least one minute to clear stale water from the pipes. Do not reuse stale water sitting in your kettle.
  2. Prewarm the teapot by rinsing it with hot water. Use one tea bag or 1 rounded teaspoon of loose tea per cup. If you like stronger tea, add an extra bag to the pot, but be sure not to overbrew.
  3. Pour boiling water over black, oolong, and herbal teas; for green tea, use water just at the boiling point. Brewing time will depend on the tea type: three to five minutes for green, oolong, and black teas; four to six minutes for herbal teas. If you’re using tea bags, give each bag a gentle squeeze to release the last bit of flavor and color.
  4. Complement tea flavor with your favorite sweetener or lemon. Milk may be used in black teas, but green teas and most herb teas taste best without it.

—L.E.

The idea of afternoon tea began in England during the late 1700s when the Duchess of Bedford, seeking to avoid the sinking feeling that came to her in the late afternoon, began inviting friends to her castle for a small meal of bite-size cakes, sandwiches, sweets, and hot tea. The practice quickly caught on among gentility and commoners alike. Aside from tea’s refreshing qualities, modern studies support its numerous health benefits, including evidence that tea may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, stimulate anticancer activity, and fortify immunity.

Today, afternoon tea remains a wonderful ritual, whether you offer it the classic way, with lace tablecloths and elegant china, or stir it up with your own style (think modern flatware or a funky new teapot). Teas, like wine, can bring out the flavor of foods, so we asked a tea expert to suggest a perfect match for each delectable recipe. By setting aside the time, preparing fun food, and exploring different teas, you’ll soon make this heartwarming tradition your own.

Turkey Sandwiches with Arugula Mayonnaise


Makes 24 / You can make and refrigerate the arugula mayonnaise several days ahead. Sandwiches may be assembled up to two hours before serving; refrigerate, covered, so they don’t dry out.

1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/3 cup packed coarsely chopped arugula leaves
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 thin slices Italian ciabatta or firm white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed
10 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
1-1/2 cups whole arugula leaves

Serve these with a classic black tea, such as Earl Grey, or any herbal tea with a zesty, citrus flavor. 1. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, chopped arugula, shallot, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place bread slices on a work surface. Spread an equal amount of mayonnaise mixture on each slice. Top six slices with turkey and whole arugula leaves, divided evenly. Top with remaining six bread slices, mayonnaise-side down, pressing to adhere. Cut each sandwich into four triangles.

Nutrition Facts Per Piece: Calories: 68 calories % fat calories: 23 Fat: 2g Saturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 5mg Carbohydrate: 9g Protein: 4g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 199mg

Smoked Salmon–Wasabi Tea Sandwiches


Makes 24 / These sandwiches can be made up to two hours ahead; refrigerate, covered with damp paper towels, to keep the bread moist. Look for wasabi (horseradish) powder in your market’s Asian foods section.

1 tablespoon wasabi powder
2 teaspoons water
8 ounces Neufchâtel cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (1-2 lemons)
1 tablespoon capers
12 thin slices whole-wheat or dark bread, crusts trimmed
8 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Enjoy with a simple green tea, or herbal honeybush, peach, or apricot tea. 1. In a medium bowl, mix wasabi powder with water to form a paste. Add cream cheese, lemon juice, zest, and capers. Beat with an electric mixer until well combined.

2. Place bread slices on a work surface. Spread each slice with wasabi cream cheese, dividing equally. Top six bread slices with smoked salmon, dividing equally. Sprinkle basil and chives over salmon. Top with remaining bread slices, cheese-side down. Cut each sandwich into four triangles.

Nutrition Facts Per Piece: Calories: 72 calories % fat calories: 40 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 10mg Carbohydrate: 7g Protein: 4g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 212mg

Island Orange-Almond Biscotti


Makes about 48 / A crunchy half-biscuit, half-cookie, laced with orange, almond, and a surprising hint of Caribbean flavors.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon liquid Jamaican jerk seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (1-2 medium oranges)
1-1/2 cups whole almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water

An herbal or black tea that features a bit of orange and spice, or almond-flavored carob tea, would pair excellently with these biscotti. 1. Preheat oven to 300º. Lightly spray and flour two baking sheets.

2. In a large bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt until combined. In a small bowl, whisk two eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, jerk seasoning, and zest. Add to flour mixture, beating just until dough is formed. Stir in almonds.

3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead several times. Separate dough into two halves. With floured hands, form each half into a 12x2-inch flattish log. Arrange at least 3 inches apart on one baking sheet. Whisk egg white with 1 teaspoon water and brush lightly over dough.

4. Bake in center of oven for 50 minutes. Set baking sheet on a rack to cool for 10 minutes.

5. Using a sharp bread knife and a cutting board, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal to form long, 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange, cut side down, on two baking sheets. Bake slices 15 minutes more, turning over once during baking, until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 66 calories % fat calories: 35 Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 13mg Carbohydrate: 9g Protein: 2g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 41mg

Ginger-Lemon Tea Bread


Makes 2 small loaves
(16 slices) / A classic teatime treat, updated and enhanced with ginger and cardamom.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup nonfat milk

Glaze
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons)

Green tea flavored with fruit, honey, or ginseng magically brings out this bread’s delicate flavors. 1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly spray and flour two small (2-cup) loaf pans.

2. Beat sugars with butter until creamy. Beat in zest, eggs, and ginger. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and cardamom. Add to sugar mixture, blending well. Beat in vanilla and milk.

3. Pour batter into loaf pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out barely dry, 25–30 minutes. For glaze, combine 1/3 cup sugar with lemon juice. While loaves are still warm and in pans, evenly pour glaze over loaves. Let sit at least 5 minutes to absorb.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 150 calories % fat calories: 30 Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 38mg Carbohydrate: 24g Protein: 2g Fiber: 0g Sodium: 71mg

Cheddar-Sausage Corn Muffins


Makes 12 / If you can’t find or don’t favor hot spicy sausage, any seasoned turkey sausage will work.

8 ounces chorizo or andouille turkey sausage, removed from casings
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup nonfat milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped date pieces (2-3 large dates, pitted)
1-2 tablespoons minced, pickled jalapeños

A classic black breakfast tea works well with these muffins, as does a hibiscus-based herbal tea. 1. Preheat oven to 400º. Lightly spray 12 1/3-cup muffin cups.

2. In a skillet over medium-low heat, sauté sausage, breaking up into little pieces, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Mix in 1/4 cup cheese. In a small saucepan, melt butter; cool slightly. Whisk in milk, egg, dates, and jalapeños. Stir sausage crumbles and butter mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Spoon batter to fill muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

4. Bake muffins in center of oven until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 187 calories % fat calories: 44 Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 5g Cholesterol: 48mg Carbohydrate: 18g Protein: 8g Fiber: 1g Sodium: 357mg

Cherry-Chocolate Buttermilk Scones


Makes 12 / You can mix and shape these ahead of time; refrigerate on a baking sheet overnight and pop in the oven in the morning. For Valentine’s Day, use a 2-inch, heart-shaped cookie cutter.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (1-2 medium oranges)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried tart cherries
2/3 cup chilled buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Extra buttermilk, for brushing

A vibrant red tea (also called rooibos) or a spicy chai would partner nicely with these scones. 1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and zest; rub in with fingertips until a coarse meal forms. Mix in chocolate chips and dried cherries.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, applesauce, egg yolk, and extracts. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients; stir with a fork until dough comes together in moist clumps. Gather into a ball (dough will be sticky). Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 400º. Lightly spray and flour a baking sheet. On a lightly floured surface, press out dough with floured hands to form a 3/4 -inch-thick round. Cut dough into 12 wedges, or use a cookie cutter. Transfer pieces to baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Brush scones lightly with additional buttermilk.

4. Bake until scones are crusty on top and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 15–20 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 237 calories % fat calories: 35 Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 29mg Carbohydrate: 36g Protein: 4g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 172mg Freelance writer Lynne Eppel hopes readers “come away with a new appreciation of tea and its role in world history.” Plus, she adds, “learning how to match teas with food is not only fun, but also really valid.” Eppel lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she also teaches yoga.

Tea-pairing suggestions provided by Charlie Baden, Celestial Seasonings’ blendmaster since 1975.