I, like millions of others have gotten hooked on watching Downton Abbey, the wonderful British, period drama, created by Julian Fellowes who has also written great scripts such as Gosford Park and The Young Victoria, both of which I went to see couple of times.
I don't have a t.v., here in Maine at the Kismet Inn and had not watched it till December 2012 when I went down to Queens, NYC for Christmas. It is then I got hooked on it. Upon my return to Maine, I checked the first season from Patten Free Library, which is right across from the inn, sitting on the town green, called The library park, where incidently quite a few weddings are held from the end of May to mid-October.
I finished watching season 1 and have been able to watch the weekly showings online on pbs.org. Being aristocrats and as traditional as Crawley family are, it is expected of them to have such a high regard for afternoon tea. I kind of believe in the same thing, mostly because I also grow up with it.
Brewing Tea with a Samovar
Tea is regarded highly as an afternoon and morning drink. People all over the world drink it in many different ways. The way I grew up was to have a Samovar lit all day long with a tea pot sitting on top. Samovar, the story goes came into being after the Russians and Persians travelled to China and brought back tea on 'Silk Road' and, as they traveled bringing back tea, they brewed tea over a lite fire drinking it while resting. Upon their return they thought of making a tool to produce slow brewed tea hence, Samovar was born. It is said, the first modern looking samovar to be made was in 1717, by two brothers in Tula, Russia. All the traditional samovars have a funnel in the middle for charcoal to boil the water and a spot on top for the tea pot to sit on. The water is first boiled in the urn, then loose leaf tea is put in the teapot and, boiling water is poured into the teapot. The teapot then is placed on top of the samovar which produces very low heat, to steep. If the heat is high the tea will become bitter and not good.
Drinking tea, steeped on top of a samovar is a long lasting tradition that goes back several centuries. We had it for breakfast with feta cheese, walnuts and lavash bread. In the afternoons we had it with fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, dill, chives, cucumbers, grapes, watermelon, melons, feta cheese and walnut. Often the table was set outside in the garden under the shade of trees with water fountains in gardens filled with jasmine, wisteria, roses and magnolias. Sadly, those beautiful gardens don't exist anymore, they have given way to highrises and condos.
English Tea Traditions
In Downton Abbey however, tea is drank in the English style which is much more known and familiar in the U.S. The restaurants do try to replicate the 'English' tea; to me they don't, really. If you notice, in Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith, playing the role of Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham pours hot water from an urn into the teapot, rines it to warm up the teapot, then pours loose leaf tea into the pot then pours hot water into the pot and lets it steep for a few minutes before pouring it. So the English kind of steep their tea as well except in a different way. I never see this in restaurants.
Tea at the Kismet Inn
Having seen the rich ritual of drinking tea, I wanted to make sure to offer something similar at the inn and the first step was to make sure not to serve tea bags that are flavored with artificial strawberry, vanilla, and sprayed with chemicals. I took the oath of making the teas with organic, loose leaf tea and if they were to be flavored to put real, organic spice in it such as cardomam, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cranberries and.... As for the pastry, cake, cookies, sandwiches, I make sure I make all of those from scratch as well using all organic ingredients for I believe what is the use of using one organic ingredient and the rest not. The chemicals from the non-organic ingredients are going to be in the food and the vitality of the organic ingredient is going to be lost so it is rather pointless.
I serve the afternoon tea to my guests at whatever time they request it which is usually between 3 - 5, often a little after their massage. They enjoy their tea wherever they want to drink it, the library, the screen porch, during winter by the fire.