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Epcot's 2007 International
Food & Wine Festival
Afternoon Tea with Stephen Twining
with Stephen Twining
Beach Club Resort
September 29, 2007
Jasmine Green Tea
Twinings Darjeeling Tea
Twinings Earl Grey Tea
Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese
Chicken Curry Salad
Egg Salad with Dill
Strawberry Preserves and Devonshire Cream
Debra Martin Koma
AllEars®.Net Senior Editor
The 2007 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival featured a limited run event called "Afternoon Tea with Stephen Twining" of the famous Twining tea family. The event, held on only four afternoons, was priced at a steep $75 per person, plus tax, but, as a nod to my English roots, I knew I had to go and hear what Mr. Twining had to say about tea.
After arriving fairly early for the 3:30 p.m. start time, and waiting in Martha's Vineyard lounge for Ariel's to open its door, we were finally allowed entry and given a card bearing the name of a type of tea: Assam, Ceylon, Earl Grey, etc.
Round tables were elegantly set for a meal in the upper level of the dining room, but our presentation was to begin in the lower area, in which two very long tables were set, banquet style. At each place were three small dishes of different teas: Jasmine, Darjeeling and Earl Grey.
Stephen Twining. the 10th generation of his family in the tea business, began his slide presentation with a brief history of the origins of tea drinking. Twining himself is very much a British gentleman, tall, slender, wearing a navy double-breasted jacket and sporting a very dry sense of humor. Clearly, he'd given this talk a few times -- it was very polished and full of little witticisms, making what could have been a boring history lesson a very interesting and involving discussion of the entire tea-making process.
As the talk progressed, Twining explained that, contrary to popular belief, Twining's does not actually own any tea gardens, nor do they grow their own tea. Rather they are tea buyers and blenders, who know where the best tea is grown. As Twining's prides itself on consistency of flavor, they have very exact procedures for selecting the teas they purchase and blend. We learned what climate and other environmental factors produce the "best" tea, as well as how tea is picked and the processed -- all the steps from when the tender green leaves are selected up through when they are dried, cut and packed.
Periodically, Twining urged us to look at the teas placed before us, to feel and smell them so that we could compare and contrast the various types. The jasmine tea had an almost flowery, delicate aroma, while the Earl Grey had a distinctive citrus character, due to the bergamot that's added to it. We learned that the size of the leaves had little to do with the quality of the tea, but owed more instead to the method of processing used. Once again, bigger does not mean better!
After a brief intermission, we adjourned to the upper level of the restaurant, looking for the tables marked with the same names as those found on the cards we'd been given when we checked in. Servers quickly poured small tastes of each of the three featured teas for all the participants around the room, as Twining spoke about the evolution of afternoon tea. He spoke of how the ritual of afternoon tea is "all about relaxation and light refreshment in pleasant surroundings." He also described the difference between afternoon tea and "high" tea, which generally features food of some substance. Following the tasting of the three samples, we had the chance to choose which tea we preferred most, and were served a full cup of that particular tea. (As an aside, you have to love Disney's attention to detail -- they even had Mickey-shaped sugar cubes!)
An assortment of four dainty finger sandwiches was then served, while Twining circulated around the room, sitting and chatting at each table for several minutes. All of the sandwiches were prettily presented, but I didn't care for the smoked salmon, nor did many others at my table. Otherwise they were savory and matched the tea quite nicely. Following that, a warm raisin scone, with thick Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, was served. Finally, a plate of sweets, including a chocolate-covered strawberry and a few cookies, was brought round to each place.
As we left the event, we were each handed a small bag with some lovely parting gifts -- a package of herbal infusions (commonly called herbal teas) and a china tea cup and saucer. There was also a coupon for a free gift redeemable at the Tea Caddy in the UK pavilion in Epcot. The gift turned out to be a very nice stainless steel tea infuser, worth about $5.00 or so.
in all this program was not only entertaining, but very educational,
and very nicely presented -- you even came away from it with a pleasantly
full tummy. I would say that if you are a tea drinker, or someone interested
in learning more about tea in general, this would be a worthwhile program
to attend. Especially if Stephen Twining is the one making the presentation.