Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reminiscing About A Victorian "Sunflower Tea" with Maura Graber


 "Upon the tea-table everything was in sunflower harmony as far as possible.  Down the center of the white table-covers were strips of the dotted swiss worked in the same style as the aprons." from 'A Sunflower Tea', 1895

Back in 2007 while I was still learning about etiquette and how to teach it, Maura Graber (the wonderful woman who trained me at The RSVP Institute of Etiquette and who helped me figure out how to do this blog) had been perusing some old magazines prior to my scheduled phone call. Wanting to learn everything I could, I asked what she was reading. "The Delineator" was her reply. That sounded like a magazine on physics or science to me, but she then went on to tell me about the article she had read on a sunflower tea.

Tea Crystals that Maura Graber's doctor told her to get whilst fighting a throat infection.  She loves the brew.
Funny enough, Maura is not a tea drinker.  Unless it is crystallized chrysanthemum tea, she doesn't care for the taste of tea. Hosting teas are not 'her thing' either.  She enjoys attending them, but says they are just buffets where tea is served as the main beverage. As she doesn't drink tea, taking tea at tearooms regularly, other than getting together with friends, does not really interest her.  When I first asked how she put teas on when teaching etiquette, she shrugged her shoulders and said it was the least favorite type of event at which she she is asked to speak.

She then went on to tell me why.  She said, and this has been my experience too, that the focus is always on the British customs.  So when she is a speaker at an afternoon tea, she tries to pepper her presentations with bits of information about Russian tea rooms and their history, Russian samovars, yerba mate tea, South American tea drinkers, Chinese teas and Japanese tea ceremonies, etc...  Very helpful and many attendees have been appreciative of her adding those bits on cultures they may be more familiar with.
Patented 'Design of a Tea Shop Sign', from 1881

 I am, on the other hand, a tea enthusiast! Tea Parties that I put on for the grandchildren and their friends at church are the highlights of my year!

"Cold ham and tongue, chicken salad, thin bread and butter, buttered tea biscuit, and tea and coffee formed the more substantial part of the menu."  from 'A Sunflower Tea', 1895

 So when she asked if I wanted to hear the story of the "Sunflower Tea" from 1895, I gave an enthusiastic, "Yes! Please!"  Cup of tea in hand, (mine, not hers) she read the article aloud to me.  Enchanting!

Now I wish to share it with everyone in the blog-o-sphere, so posted here is the copy that Maura Graber emailed to me. Tea enthusiasts, enjoy :)


Basic Tea Manners and Etiquette-

  • Arrive as punctually as possible and if you will be more than 10 or 15 minutes late, call the hostess to apologize and to let her know.
  • Greet your hostess when you do arrive.  If you have had a trying day, do attempt to keep a smile on your face.   You don't want to be a 'Debbie Downer', whiny or depress everyone around you, especially if the tea is a celebratory tea for some occasion like a bridal, or a baby shower.
  • Always use a napkin, along with any utensils the hostess has provided.
  • If you are hosting the tea party, you can choose the order with which to serve the foods, however if you want your guests  to be thrilled they received the invitation to your tea, then by all means let guests eat in what ever order they choose.
  • Eat as neatly as possible, finger foods and foods for which you are provided utensils. Never lick your fingers! Tempting as it may seem, you may not be invited back.
  • Place the teaspoon on your saucer.  Iced tea is the only beverage one can drink properly with a spoon still in the tall glass.  And that is only if there is no saucer or iced teaspoon caddy to rest the spoon into.
  • When taking tea, keep that pinky finger down.  Raising one's pinky finger is an affectation that developed in the lower classes many years ago.  It was based on a truly mistaken notion regarding the upper classes.
July 1929 The Duke and Duchess of York with their young, Princess Elizabeth- Enjoying a "Tea Party"

Many thanks to you, Maura.  I would not have done this without a nudge from you and the photos you contributed.


  1. Thank you! You have made my morning. Bravo for getting started A.J.

  2. It was so good to hear from you! You have finally started that blog you had talked about. I look forward to reading more posts from you. Give my best to Don.

  3. Yummy! All but the 'tongue' sounds great. My grandparents liked tongue. I don't care for even the smell of the stuff.