It’s funny. I have always been a tea drinker. When I was in college, my friend Kelly (the one who traveled with me back in college, and who I talked about in my campfire post) gifted me with a beautiful terracotta pot with a built-in tea strainer. We’d sit for a whole afternoon just chatting and pouring each other cups of tea. When I got married, Kelly drove up from NYC to come to our wedding and she gave me a lovely lime green teapot with a sterling silver branch handle.
Again, I loved it and have continued collecting teapots and teacups that catch my eye. From my wife’s inherited pieces of Bla eld to a unique little pot I bought at a chinese restaurant closing down I have a varied collection. I’ve also got tea cups, one of which has the face of a woman (photographic quality) embedded in the bottom of the cup. When you hold it up to light it shows up dramatically.
It actually wasn’t until I lived in England for a bit that I started drinking coffee! Strange, but true. I guess the school tea wasn’t what I was used to. Tea at school was a crazy crowd style event so not surprising it didn’t measure up. But for some reason having tea with friends, and going “out for tea” is something that has always been special to me.
Tea Parties of My Past
Rainwater Tea – When I was little, I think my sister and I got a plastic tea set from my grandfather. He owned a kind of general store in Chelsea and sold all kinds of odd lot items, including toys. When we visited the shop, which was rare, he let us pick something out. I seem to recall a set of plastic cups and saucers that came with a fat-bellied teapot, a little gold-trimmed sugar and creamer set, and some plastic forks, spoons, and knives.
Since I was also a bit of a tomboy at that age, I am guessing those items were used to serve mud sandwiches and rainwater tea… until we got our EasyBake Oven (another gem I still have!) and could make our own little cupcakes or layer cakes. At that point, we were serving them on the remnants of that long ago set.
Tea at School – We had formal teatime at school every day at 3 pm. Everything stopped; classes, work, and all students and staff would head to our dining hall for tea (and coffee). I never got used to the air-dried milk they served for tea. I also wasn’t a fan of lemon with my tea, although lemon and honey with tea when you have a sore throat is a definite MUST! So I drank coffee with the random selection of biscuits and puddings they set out for us.
We were an ungrateful bunch I think because I distinctly remember one tea where they served us what appeared to be a giant cake of jelly covered in slices of bread. They’d literally formed a layered mountain of jelly with slices of bread holding it all in place. It didn’t take long for students to realize that’s all that huge bread-covered mound encased. And we ended up with slices of bread and jelly all over the table, all over the floor. It was a mess.
Tea at Belinda’s or Harrod’s or Fortnum & Mason’s after a day out shopping was altogether different and usually a chance to enjoy clotted cream, berries, pots of jam, scones, and someone “being mother” and pouring each of us our cuppa.
Tea with Friends – When I got out of college, I’d grown into the habit of going out for tea, so we looked for places near home that offered it. My favorite was the Ritz Carlton in Boston. They did an amazing tea at Christmas time with towering trays of cakes, tiered platters of sandwiches, violinists playing in the background, and special children’s menus that asked the tiny guests to have their nanny help them make their selections. It was expensive but it was an experience. We booked my sister-in-law’s “girls day out” here a few days before her wedding, and spent 3 – 4 hours drinking tea, champagne, and sherry, and eating every cake and sandwich in sight!
Recently my wife treated me to tea at The Victorian Tea Room in the old mills in Lowell. Unfortunately, that place has had to close, but at the time we went, they had an incredible shop filled with teacups, tea caddies, teapots, and a wide selection of flowered hats and jewelry perfect for wearing to tea. We actually got to select a hat to wear while we were enjoying our tea.
Each table was set with beautiful china teacups and saucers, and our sandwiches and cakes were served on tiered platters. One thing that was included and really stood out for me was the little rose-infused sugar cubes left in a bowl at each of our places. I don’t usually use sugar in my tea, but I made an exception and I’m glad I did. I also came up with a few other varieties that I wanted to share!
Note: To make your own sugar cubes, you’ll need a sugar cube mold or the patience to roll the sugar out to 1/4″ thickness and then cut into cubes. Amazon sells mini candy molds in many shapes. I love the silicone mini hearts ones, but there are also lots of grid designs, and even teddy bears. The important thing is to make sure you’re buying mini-sized molds. Otherwise, you’ll end up with something a bit too large to be considered appropriate for tea! You want a mold that holds 2 tsp of sugar, no more.
Citrus Rose Sugar Cubes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 TB dried, crushed rose petals (organic, pesticide-free)
- ½ TB lemon or orange zest dried
- 3 – 4 drops of lemon flavoring (or you can mix lemon and orange)
- Place sugar, rose petals, and zest into a bowl and mix well.
- Add the flavoring and stir until mixed.
- Add water slowly, 1 TB at a time, mixing well after each.
- Do not try to rush this or you’ll end up with a bowl of a soggy puddle of sweet water
- After each TB mix well and continue doing that until your sugar sticks together like wet sand. It should stick together when you squeeze some in your hand.
- Once you’ve reached this stage, spoon the mixture into your chosen molds and press firmly with the back of the spoon. Your molds should be large enough to hold 2 tsp maximum. More and the cubes will be too large to use for tea.
- Set aside and allow to dry a few hours or overnight.
- Store in a sealed, airtight container.
These would be perfect in tea, but you can also leave out the lemon, and mix rose petals and lavender for a pretty addition to champagne. Or you can try this combination for a refreshing option with lemonade or hot tea:
Lavender and Mint Sugar Cubes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 TB dried, crushed edible lavender (you can use dried flowers from the garden, if no pesticides were used)
- ½ TB dried mint leaves
- 3 – 4 drops of mint extract
- Follow instructions as per above.
You can also change up the sugar in these recipes, using brown sugar or demerara sugar.
And add different flavorings like:
- Pineapple juice
- Coconut water
The skies the limit! Just make sure not to overdo it with sweetened liquids or too strong a taste. Better to keep in mind that the sugar is the thing. Some flavors can be served alongside champagne cocktails or a glass of brandy or vodka. You could even make multiple flavors of sugar cubes, and put them out on a cocktail bar at a party! Have fun.