“Tea time” is our favorite time of day at the Flynn Mansion. Around two o’clock each afternoon the Flynn ladies gather in the back parlor or the dining room for a cup of tea. We started this practice about seven years ago, and it has become a cherished tradition. We enjoy trying all types of tea from the revered black tea “Darjeeling,” also known as the “champagne of afternoon tea,” to different varieties of white teas, green teas, oolongs, and fruity herbal teas. We even like to try blending our own to create new flavors, much as the hostesses in Victorian America would have done.
Early Dutch colonists first introduced the practice of drinking tea to America in the late 1600s. People gathered in tea houses in New York to enjoy this new beverage which originated in China in the 5th century. Tea drinking fell out of fashion during the American Revolution, but eventually made its way back into American homes by the early 1800s.
The custom of afternoon tea began in England. The Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, is credited with initiating the idea in the 1840s when she arranged to serve tea and small cakes to her friends in the late afternoon to help alleviate “that sinking feeling” between lunch and dinner which was usually about eight o’clock in the evening. Soon small finger sandwiches and fruit were added to the menu, and both British and American ladies and gentlemen embraced the idea of afternoon tea.
In the United States people sometimes confuse the terms “afternoon tea” and “high tea.” Afternoon tea is traditionally served anytime between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. It means light refreshments sometimes served in three courses: an assortment of finger sandwiches, scones, and a variety of small cakes or cookies. Afternoon tea can be served in the parlor on small, low tables or in the dining room and is sometimes called “low tea” because of the height of the table from which it is served. The term “high tea” comes from Great Britain and refers to a tea served at suppertime and consists of some meat dishes and heavier entrees. The working class in England had high tea as their evening meal around the dinner table or “high table.” Here in the U.S. afternoon tea is sometimes called “high tea” in the mistaken belief that it connotes a more elegant meal.
Because we enjoy afternoon tea very much here at the Flynn House, we have acquired several tea sets and several tea pots. We are especially pleased to have Ellen Flynn’s original, quadruple-plate silver tea service manufactured by the Meridian Silver Company. The set was donated by two of her great-granddaughters: Patricia Neal and Sheila Rehman. Because of its historic significance to Living History Farms, we only use the set to serve tea and coffee when members of the Flynn family come to visit! The beautiful silver urn and silver tray are not part of the Flynn set.
We also have four china tea pots which are reproductions of the well-known Blue Willow pattern that was first designed by Thomas Turner of Caughley China Co. and engraved by Joseph Minton in the late 1700s. Several English china companies like Spode and Wedgewood also manufactured this pattern. Our lovely pots, along with matching creamers and sugar bowls, were made by Johnson Brothers China and are used during our Historic Teas.
The everyday tea service used at the Flynn House is also a reproduction of a transferware pattern called Mulberry and was created in the 1800s. Transferware refers to china patterns that were produced by a process of engraving the patterns onto copper plates, inking the plates, pressing the images on special tissues that were then applied onto the china and glazed. Prior to the invention of the transferware process, china patterns were hand painted, and only the wealthy could afford to own sets of china. Most transferware was produced in Staffordshire, England by such companies as Spode, Wedgewood, Ridgway, and others.
Here is another silver tea service that is sometimes used at receptions and teas at the Flynn House.
Most afternoons we just use the very simple white ceramic pot (pictured in the display of all the tea pots) but we always set the table with a pretty bouquet of flowers, tempting treats, and piping hot tea!