Pink hearts dot the green shutters of the white cottage at the Legacy House Imports in Madison, Wisconsin. Little girls in party dresses and shoes looked around with wide eyes inside the tearoom overlooking the garden.
Tea tables held teacups, linen napkins, perfectly aligned teaspoons, butter knives and jugs of water. “You are welcome to wear a hat,” the man indicated a variety of plain and decorated hats. All but one of the teenagers rolled their eyes at the hat suggestion.
“Serving tea began when the duchess wanted to eat in the afternoon instead of waiting until the large meal at the end of the day. So, she invited friends to afternoon tea eaten at low tables or ‘low tea.’ High tea at that time referred to a hearty meal of meat and potatoes for the working man served at high tables. Now it is all called high tea.” Mr. Patrick, the proprietor, concluded.
Mothers wearing afternoon dresses and hats sat at the middle tables near the youngest children.
“I need to know what kind of tea you want. The 70 varieties are listed on the folders under your plate. You can have two-cup, four-cup or six-cup pots of tea.”
“I want chocolate milk,” the five-year-old chirped.
“There is no chocolate milk, but you can have chocolate tea,” her mother said.
“I want chocolate milk.”
“Maybe there will be milk to put in the tea. We will order a four-cup pot for the youngest,” one mother decided.
There was no milk for the tea, so the first grader used the little sugar spoon to repeatedly sweeten her tea. The rest tried Panda tea (black), Misty mango, raspberry tea, lavender and Earl grey.
At the counter, the grey-haired man began pouring warm water into and out of the small white pots. “Are you doing that to warm the pots?” one mom asked.
“Yes, we warm the pots before adding the tea and steaming hot water. Pouring hot water into a cold pot can craze the finish or even break it,” the gentleman explained as he poured water into another pot. He carried the pots to the kitchen and returned with steaming pots of tea that he set carefully around the table. “Be careful. They are hot. Hold the lids when you pour. The tea strainer on top of the cup keeps the loose leaves out of your cup.”
“And what is this little brass cup for?”
“That holds the strainer when you are ready to drink the tea.”
He stepped back and looked at the wall of windows. “We usually have a pair of cranes that come to look at tea guests. They also will walk around to the front and knock at the glass door,” he said. Within minutes the cranes arrived, peered through the lacy curtains, and approved the day’s guests. A few minutes later the cranes rapped sharply on the glass door. Little girls ran around front to see the birds step off the porch and wait for the man to open the door and toss them a handful of bird food.
Back at the tea, the tea master presented a three-tiered tray of sandwiches, scones, sweet breads, clotted cream, lemon curd and dainty pastries including a delicately shaped small swan on top.
“I want that!” the chocolate milk girl pointed.
“That’s dessert,” she was told. So the child tried bites of cucumber, egg, ham or chicken salad sandwiches, raspberry scone and a sip of chocolate tea.
The rest sampled a bit of everything and welcomed the plates of extra sandwiches added to finish up their high tea. Returning hats to the shelf, they thanked the man for their high tea and bought some souvenirs to remember their first high tea.