Phelps-Hatheway House invites guests for tea and homemade treats
By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Thu., Jul. 11, 2013
It was hot, the air was thick, and clouds filled the sky on July 7, as visitors toured the first level of the Phelps-Hatheway House. Just before the house portion of the tour ended, a light rain shower began; however this did not stop guests from enjoying the second portion of the tour – the flower and herb gardens. The tour guide, Michele Holcombe, picked handfuls of lemon balm, bee balm and other herbs to let guests smell the different aromas.
After the tour, Ladies' Tea began in the visitors center, where peppermint licorice iced tea, cucumber tea sandwiches with boursin cheese on Sally Lynn bread, lavender currant scones with strawberry rose jam and lemon rosemary shortbread cookies awaited. As visitors finished their first round of treats, peach oolong tea and lavender Earl Gray tea finished brewing and a flowerfetti cake (calendula orange) with cream cheese frosting decorated with edible flower pieces was being cut, all of which were made by Holcombe and fellow tour guide and host Lynn Mervosh.
“Tea is not only a social institution, but also a political and historical one,” said Mervosh, as she began explaining the influence of tea in early America while the group savored the cake. She told guests that tea was first brought to the colonies in the late 1600s, but did not become popular until the late 1700s. At this time, tea was “embellished” by all social classes, according to Mervosh. The lower class drank it for the caffeine, which kept them going through long, hard days of work, while the middle class enjoyed collecting the utensils and serving pieces, similar to the ones the upper class owned.
“The upper class liked it because they could show the people over in England that they were that civilized, if not more civilized than they were,” said Mervosh.
Oftentimes tea was enjoyed at home by women, while men socialized at coffee houses. From time to time, men were invited to tea, and neighbors and friends gathered to share gossip, political opinions, play cards, dance and sing. Tea typically began around 5 p.m. and sometimes lasted until 9 p.m.
Mervosh also briefly talked about the four main types of tea – white, green, oolong and black. Most tea comes from the Chinese plant camellia sinensis, though there is a similar plant in India also used for tea.
“When tea is picked, it's either allowed to ferment – that's when it becomes black like a tobacco – or it can be heated to a temperature of 200 degrees and it will not become black, it will stay the green leafy color,” said Mervosh.
She explained each type of tea should steep at a specific water temperature – white tea between 160 degrees and 170 degrees, green tea at 175 degrees, oolong at 190 degrees, and black at 212 degrees, which is boiling.
For more information on the Phelps-Hatheway House programs and events, visit www.ctlandmarks.org.