When Tea brought people together – Article by Maria de Lourdes Bravo Da Costa Rodrigues
Sometime back, I attended an afternoon tea party at “Nostalgia”, Goa’s well known restaurant at Raia. Restaurant owner Margarida De Noronha e Tavora Costa, true to her lineage, served guests with all the finesse that was followed in the past. A well laid table in the traditional and typical manner, with china crockery and the ready to serve tea in a teapot covered with a teapot cover. All of it brought back wonderful memories of the past when afternoon tea in Goa was a ritual the family followed every day.
I remember how at home the maid had to have the teapot on the table with hot tea, freshly brewed between 4 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. we would all sit to have a cup of tea and some snacks, which usually included cakes or biscuits or homemade sweets, especially a variety of Goan Godchem.
Today, with very few people preparing snacks at home, the tradition of afternoon tea is slowly dying out. Most people today buy salted or sweet savories at different bakeries in the city or the village. The well known goan cookery book “Livro da Cozinha Goesa” by Carlota Mesquite Correira gives the following buffet menu for a formal tea at five party.
Pateis de amendoas, Bebinca, frutas cristalizadas
Crème de amendoas e de leite
Pudins – Gelados
(If the “Tea Party” begins later, snacks made of meat and wine were also served)
Tea parties were also a part of the social lifestyle in Goa, when birthday parties, welcoming those who came on a visit or official work to Goa and farewell parties for those who went back, were some of the occasions when tea parties were held.
Guests were usually served in the living room with snacks and tea doing the rounds. Table service for tea was different from lunch or dinner. There could be a different table for tea from the dining table, in case, tea was served on the dining table, that the table cloth would be of smaller size and normally laid with corners across the sides, the serviettes of smaller size and made of cloth and beautifully embroidered, usually would make a set with the table cloth.
Evening tea is a tradition followed by the English, In Goa, it probably picked up after the Anglo- Portuguese Treaty of 1878 and the establishment of Western Railways in Goa, which were managed by the British Railways. According to the provisions of the treaty, all existing differential customs duties levied by the British India and Portuguese Estado were abolished. Both the governments agreed to maintain uniform custom duties on articles imported and exported across the frontiers. Import duties on all goods were abolished in Portuguese India, except on arms, ammunition’s, spirits, salt and opium. Doors were opened to unrestricted imports from British India. Along with the treaty, the English habits and import of tea caught up with the Goan elite and then generalized with all.
It is very interesting to know the “afternoon tea” is a tea related ritual introduced in Britain in the early 1840’s. It evolved as a mini meal to stem hunger and anticipation of an evening meal at 8 p.m.. At the time, it was common for people to take only one main meal a day, breakfast and dinner at around 8 p.m. afternoon tea was initially developed as a private social event for ladies who climbed the echelons of society. It was only when Queen Victoria engaged in the afternoon tea ritual that it became a formal occasion on a larger scale, known as “Tea Receptions”.
Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a low or afternoon tea around 4 p.m. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial high tea later in the day at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. in place of late dinner. The names derived from the height of the tables on which the meals were served, high tea being served at dinner table. The drinking of tea not only became a social even for the upper classes it altered the time and manner in which they took tea. Afternoon tea became the bridge between meals because many wouldn’t eat their evening meal until maybe 8 p.m. as such, afternoon tea became a mini meal in itself.
Why is it called “High Tea”?
A possible explanation why this type of meal was known as high tea in that fact that it was eaten at a table. In comparison, afternoon tea was taken whilst seating in low, comfortable chairs or sofas, of course, soon after, the upper classes developed their own variation and also called it “high tea”. It was a meal that could be eaten when their servants were away and not available, as it was easy to prepare. The upper class “high tea” involved the amalgamation of afternoon tea and high tea, with the addition of pigeon, veal, salmon and fruit.
Although the tradition of afternoon tea is offered by many restaurants abroad, we do not see any such offers in Goa and why we Goans do not bring back the afternoon tea as a party theme? At least we know that Nostalgia” can recreate the nostalgic “Cha das Cinco”.