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Posted on Thu. Dec. 26, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Celebrate 'Downton Abbey' return with tea

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'Downton Abbey' returns

What The popular PBS TV show about an aristocratic British family in the early 20th century and their servants returns for its fourth season. To celebrate, local station WFWA is hosting a tea before debuting the first hour of the first episode of Season 4.

When: Tea is 4:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday; followed by the screening at 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.)

Where: Tea is at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, 1100 S. Calhoun St. Screening is next door at the Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Cost: Tea is $100 per person; screening is free. To reserve a spot at the tea party contact PBS39's Kelly Hardesty by phone at 471-5363

or via email at

Etc.: Attendees to either the tea and/or the screening are encouraged to dress in period attire.


Fans of the PBS TV show "Downton Abbey" are eagerly awaiting Season 4 of the show about English aristocracy and their servants.

Local PBS station WFWA is giving fans a jump on the season with a free sneak preview screening of the first hour of the first episode of Season 4 Sunday at the Embassy Theatre. The first show airs at 9 p.m. Jan. 5 on WFWA.

Before the Embassy screening, the station is hosting a fundraising tea 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. The tea costs $100 per person, and seating is limited.

The British tradition of afternoon tea is often depicted in the show. It all looks so genteel, with the characters dressed to the nines and engaged in (mostly) polite conversation while sipping tea.

If you can't attend WFWA's tea, you can create your own version of afternoon tea – even if you want to serve your tea in the evening while watching an episode of "Downton Abbey."

News-Sentinel etiquette columnist Karen Hickman is a tea expert, having taken training from the TEA School in Connecticut and The Protocol School of Washington.

Hickman sees a renewed interest in tea in the United States. Although afternoon tea is not common here, she said fine hotels in metropolitan areas of the United States serve traditional afternoon tea, and they do a good job.

Do not confuse afternoon tea with high tea. High tea originated during the Industrial Revolution and was when workers took their evening meal with tea. Sounds fancy, but it's not.

Afternoon tea is usually served between 3 and 5 p.m., Hickman said. It's often served with three courses: a savory course of finger sandwiches; scones and Devonshire cream; and sweets and cakes.

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited with originating the custom of afternoon tea in the early 19th century. As Hickman explained it, at that time people would eat breakfast and then not eat again until late in the evening – 8 or 9 p.m. The duchess, who was friends with Queen Victoria, started having afternoon tea with a light snack to avoid "sinking spells" in the late afternoon. "It was used as a stopgap," Hickman said.

Attending an afternoon tea today in a fancy hotel, such as the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, requires a certain type of dress. This isn't like stopping in at Starbucks for a drink and snack.

"You are expected to dress," Hickman said. "This is the time to put on your pearls. You would not be admitted in jeans. There's an expectation."

Hickman believes the occasion warrants special dress and behavior. "It's such a lovely little ceremony," she said. "I think it almost begs for us to be a little more well-mannered."

Of course, in the 21st century in the United States, in the privacy of your own home, you can wear whatever you want to your tea, and serve it at any time. You can serve a light snack with it or not. However, there is one key ingredient: tea. And the choices can be intimidating.

Have you seen the selections of tea available now? It can be overwhelming. Hickman notes that different types of teas require different brewing times. Beginners should follow tea manufacturers' instructions. "I always set a timer when I brew my tea," she said.

Here are her recommendations for brewing a perfect pot of tea:

*Fill a tea kettle with water and bring it almost to a boil. Pour some of the heated water into your teapot and swirl it around to warm the pot.

*Measure a rounded teaspoon of tea for each cup of water the teapot holds. Add an extra teaspoon if strong tea is preferred. You can put the tea directly in the teapot, but you will have to strain or decant the steeped tea into another heated pot. Or you can put the tea in a tea infuser or filter.

*Steeping depends on the size of the leaf. Black tea should steep at least three minutes. Green tea requires about one minute.

*Pour the tea into the cup before adding milk, lemon or sugar.

Hickman has a few "don'ts" as well, or as she puts it: How to avoid the tea drinkers' hall of shame:

*Don't refer to afternoon tea as "high tea."

*Don't use lemon and milk together; the milk will curdle.

*Don't leave the spoon upright in the cup.

*Don't swirl the liquid around in the tea cup as if it were wine in a glass.

*And last but not least, don't extend your pinkie finger. "That's an affectation and it's something I recommend you do not do," she said.

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