Pandemic Tea Party

It’s been a long while since I last went out for afternoon tea. The last time I did was back in February, so about three weeks prior to COVID-19 really making the news in North America and prior to the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.

My life (and everyone else’s) certainly has changed and as we all try to embrace the “new normal”, I did go out for afternoon tea last month at one of my favourite locations (Little White House in Fort Langley, BC – I’ve shared a review on Little White House before!). Restaurants have been operating on a pretty low-key basis. For a while it was only take-out or delivery available, and slowly dine-in has been opening up in British Columbia. Things have really changed, so I wanted to share a bit about my experience and also what you should be looking out for to help keep yourself safe!

Responsible restaurants should be actively engaged in contact tracing. Contact tracing is something that is required by the province of British Columbia – it’s their way of being able to contact people in the event that someone who works or visited an establishment tests positive for COVID-19, it makes it possible for public health workers to get in touch with everyone. This is also required in British Columbia for gatherings that are privately held. Not all places require this, but it’s always a good idea for a public health issue like a pandemic.

Servers and front-of-house staff should be wearing masks. Hand sanitizer being available at the door is a huge plus, as hand hygiene should be actively encouraged for everyone. I’ve been to restaurants that require preordering (like Little White House insists on), and also ones that provide mobile menus or paper menus if they’re unable to dedicate a staff member to sanitizing menus between guests.

Cleanliness is at the top of everyone’s mind. What I really appreciated with what Little White House did is that they had set menus and it was individually boxed when served at the table. Everything was a single serving, very neatly presented. I do think it does present more waste, but a lot of it is recyclable (without knowing the composition of the clear front window or cup liner). Other restaurants I’ve been in have offered food on reusable plates (so like before), but the boxed up afternoon tea set lends itself really well as a “tea to go” set for people who want to take it home to eat, or to find a picnic table in a park.

I know that a lot of people are nervous about eating out, especially for a little gathering like an afternoon tea party, so here are some of things to consider to keep you and your loved ones safe:

Are people wearing masks in the waiting area? How about servers and front-of-house staff?

Do you see hand sanitizer available? Are they encouraging hand hygiene for patrons?

Are the tables spaced out appropriately? 6 feet is a minimum that tables or booths should be spaced out unless there are other physical barriers between tables and booths.

Be mindful of who you’re inviting out with you. It’s still a good idea to keep your social bubble on the smaller side. If one of your BFFs is hanging out with a different group of friends on a daily basis and engaging in less than safe practices, it’s okay not to invite them. You have to protect yourself first.

Afternoon Tea vs High Tea

Did you know that afternoon tea and high tea are not the same thing?

Often used interchangeably today, the terms describe different meals. The one that is most often used for tea parties, baby & bridal showers, and hosted with all the fun cakes is afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea is a lighter meal, often served to the upper class and was at one point referred to as ‘low tea’ because of the lower table (think coffee table height). This meal consists of tea sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and sweets. Afternoon tea is, of course, served in the afternoon (approximately 3:30-5pm) as a way to tide you over between lunch and dinner.

Popularized by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s, she wanted the tea and cakes to fill her up until the very late supper time that was usually 7-8pm in the evening. Afternoon tea was also used as a social gathering, as it is today as well with the showers and parties. This is the one to dress up for with your dresses and fancy hats.

High tea is, you guessed it, served on a higher table and often a post-work meal for the working class. Because it’s a meal for people who often laboured away at work, the food served at high tea is often a lot heartier and heavier to provide the sustenance for those who’ve worked long hours  – think meat and potatoes. While still deliciously savoury, a high tea meal is not for those who are just looking to keep those hunger pains away until dinner.

Regardless of what you call it, the fancy tea parties in the afternoon are still a lot of fun! And as a lot of us are spending more time at home these days, it’s a fun away to bring your family together for a nice little sit-down meal and enjoy each others company.

There are a lot of recipes out there that could easily fill up your tiered cake stand and your delicate tea cups. Some fun recipes to round out your menu could include some Lemon & Cranberry Scones topped with Easy Chia Seed Jam, to be served next to your London Fog with Lavender Simple Syrup, of course.

Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies

If you’ve been a One More Steep reader for a while, you’ll know that I tend to share a new cookie recipe every December. I work in acute medicine with a fantastic group of nurses and other healthcare professionals. One of our annual holiday activities includes a cookie exchange among staff and ever since I started working there, I’ve brought in a tea related cookie. This holiday season is my last with this amazing group of individuals, so I’ve pulled out all the stops with my contribution to this year’s cookie exchange: Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies.

My previous cookie recipes included: Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies, Matcha Sugar Cookies, and Matcha White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies
Yields: 4 dozen.
Baking Time: 8 minutes.

Chai Spice Mix
2 tbs ground cardamom
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tbs ground nutmeg
1 tbs ground ginger
½ tbs ground black pepper

Cookie Dough
1½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs Chai Spice Mix¹

Vanilla Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp water

¹ This is a great spice blend if you want to create some chai latte magic at home! You’ll get bonus points if you make a chai spice blend from scratch with whole or freshly ground spices. If you buy ground spices, make sure they’re in a dry, air-tight container so they can keep longer!

My Chai Spice Mix is a very similar blend to the Pumpkin Spice Mix that I shared earlier this year in my Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte recipe, but the ratios are a bit different as it’s more cardamom heavy and it includes black pepper (which I do freshly grind because I’ve got a pepper grinder in my kitchen).

Prepare Chai Spice Mix
Mix all ingredients together.
Store in air-tight glass container.

Make Those Cookies
Beat powdered sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and eggs together until well blended.
Mix in flour, baking soda, and Chai Spice Mix.
Cover and refrigerate for approximately 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Roll out dough to approximately ¼” thick, cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
On cookie sheets, lay out cookies at least 1″ apart.
Bake 8 minutes or until edges are light brown.
Remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks after 2-3 minutes out of the oven.

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker The Big Book of Cookies, “Sugar Cookies”.

Vanilla Glaze / Decorate!
Mix powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and water together.
Add water slowly as you mix. You want it to be thin enough to drizzle, but not so thin that it’ll just run off. (I’m so technical, I know.)
Drizzle icing on the cookies – you can use a fork or toothpick (or scoop the glaze into a zip-top bag and snip the corner and get really fancy).
Allow glaze to dry and set before you stack or package the cookies.

If you make these delicious Chai Spiced Sugar Cookies, I’d love to see your photos! Be sure to tag me on Instagram (@onemoresteep #onemoresteep) or comment below with a link to the photo!