We step into Heartwood Tea rooms in Sandridge, a small Tudor building with low ceilings, sash windows and exposed brickwork with contemporary lighting.
Before we order our afternoon teas, we go for a wander to have a look around the tearooms, then settle at our table beside an old Inglenook fireplace stacked high with logs; sunlight pours in through the open conservatory and the white walls look freshly painted; behind the counter are two high shelves, one with teapots of every shape and size, the other filled with jars of elegant blends of loose tea from Vintage Vanilla Chai to Lemon Rooibos.
Hidden away at the back of the tearooms is a small patio garden with round tables and chairs surrounded by roses in full bloom, neat bushes of hydrangeas, and pots brimming with colourful pansies.
The friendly waitress arrives and proudly presents two bone china cake stands layered with dainty cucumber, egg and cress, and smoked salmon and cream cheese finger sandwiches on the lowest tier, freshly baked scones with small pots of cream and jam on the second, and a generous selection of tiny macaroons and brownies on the top tier.
It’s a delight to share these delicacies with my daughter and her friend this afternoon and show them the art of taking tea. I meditatively stir my tea, and listen attentively as they recount the trials and tribulations of their GCSE exams. I try to cheer them up with light-hearted conversation, reminding them that it’s nearly all over and enthusing about their looming summer holidays.
I take my first few sips of Earl Grey from a china teacup with bold flower patterns splashed across it in this authentic tearoom; fresh cut carnations arranged in shabby chic vintage teapots decorate the window sill.
It was Anna Maria, the duchess of Bedford who introduced the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ to England in the 1840’s. As the evening meal was becoming fashionably later, the duchess began inviting her friends over to Woburn Abbey for a light refreshment; she sent out invitations asking her friends to join her for “tea and a walk in the parks.” It soon caught on and became a la mode among the social hostesses of the upper classes.
Even though I’m living in the 21st century, the age of fast cars and social media, I have to agree with Henry James that, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” It’s a secret pleasure of mine to occasionally hide away and indulge on a weekday afternoon where I can step out of my routine, sit back to enjoy a culinary ritual while catching up with my favourite people.