by Andrea Doyle | December 01, 2015

It is not unusual to find a three-tiered serving tray in the midst of the meetings planned by Pamela Foster, director of marketing and business development at Howie, Sacks & Henry, LLP, a Toronto-based personal injury law firm.

"Not only is afternoon tea an inexpensive way to entertain, but it is a great way to build business relationships in a relaxed atmosphere," says Foster, who is not only a business development executive, but also a culinary historian and author. Her newest book is Relaxing Over Afternoon Tea.


Afternoon tea is a creative way
to build business relationships

Traditionally, afternoon tea is served between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., an ideal time for a break. "It is like a spa, something special to add to a meeting agenda without the sweating," she jokes.

The ritual of afternoon tea dates back at least to the 1800s when Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria, is reputed to have complained of having a sinking feeling during the late afternoon. She wanted something small to satisfy her hunger -- and the rest is history.

"The Duchess' friends heard about her inspired idea and soon they were joining her, making afternoon tea a ladies' social event associated with the upper class," says Kerri Sholly of the Four Seasons Hotel Austin, which offers a daily afternoon tea.

Many mistakenly use the terms "afternoon tea" and "high tea" interchangeably, assuming the latter refers to the status of those who partake. This is incorrect, says Sholly. "In actuality, high tea was served around 6 p.m. and usually consisted of a full dinner meal for the common people after they finished work for the day," she explains. "Tea was served, but the main focus was meat, fish or eggs, cheese, bread and butter, and cake." The name high tea is derived from the height of the tables that were usually associated with this meal; whereas the elite took their tea at the low tables usually found in a sitting room.

The traditional English afternoon tea is served on a three-tier stand. The top tier holds scones and seasonal breads; the middle, sandwiches and savories; and the bottom, sweets.

"People have to share, which fosters communication and camaraderie," says Foster. "I've seen someone share a sweet they would have liked for themselves and build a relationship in the process."

The Langham, Boston offers afternoon tea on a daily basis in The Reserve, but also offers it to groups that are meeting in the hotel.


Though it is a centuries-old tradition,
afternoon tea is hot again, says food
historian Francine Segan

Leading its tea program is Ava Kawana, a certified tea sommelier who makes recommendations from one of 20 Wedgwood Tea Blends and four signature Langham blends. This begins with a special wooden box that contains small samples of each tea for guests to smell. She also meets with groups and guides them through the process of selecting a tea to help enhance the experience.

"Afternoon tea, a centuries-old tradition, is hot again," says Francine Segan, a food historian, author, TV personality, and tea expert. "It's classic, ideal for the older, conservative clients. But tea is also hip and trendy, especially for 20- and 30-somethings, who want a drink that's healthy and keeps them clear-minded."