Many blue moons ago I had the great pleasure of having High Tea at the Helmsley Palace in New York City. Or so I thought! Much to my surprise, I was mistaken in my assumption that it was called High Tea. In fact, the proper name is: Afternoon Tea. Fascinated with the ritual of “tea time”, I explored the history and found that Afternoon Tea, aka High Tea, originated among the wealthy social classes in England in the 1840s. By the end of the nineteenth century, Afternoon Tea developed into its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes. Teatime for the working population was always much later in the day, usually after 6 pm, and accompanied by a pot of good, strong stimulating tea.
At the Helmsley Palace, Afternoon Tea consisted of delicate savory cucumber or egg and cress sandwiches, bread and butter, scones with clotted cream and jam, and occasionally cakes and pastries along with a bracing pot of tea.
Sandwiches always had the crusts removed, and were cut into small segments, either as triangles or fingers, aka tea sandwiches. The waiters dressed in formal attire, starched collars, black vests and black pressed trousers. The Harpist usually played a waltz, Johann Strauss II’s, The Blue Danube, with the delicacy of an angel, which not only pleased the ear but aided with digestion.
Reservations were the only way you could have Afternoon Tea at the Helmsley. Today, the Helmsley Palace Hotel is now known as Lotte New York Palace Hotel and is one of many fine hotels in NY that offer Afternoon Tea. And of course, by today’s standards, Afternoon Tea takes place in late afternoon to early evening, 3:30-5 pm.
Afternoon Tea figures prominently in my next book, The Unforgettable Miss Baldwin. The Baldwin sisters and their mother arrange a special Afternoon Tea and invite some of the most well-to-do ladies in New York society. I had great fun working on this scene, especially the menu! I can’t wait for you to read it.