Do you sometimes hurriedly search for a hostess gift before leaving for a dinner party?  

When I receive an invitation, it’s usually accompanied by the request, “Could you bring an after dinner tea?” Because I am a tea blender, I would be disappointed if they didn’t ask.

Where I live, people tend to linger at the table while they enjoy lively conversations that continue long after the sun has said “good night.” 

The end of a beautiful meal affords the perfect opportunity to unveil tea’s unique charms to a new—and receptiveaudience. Here are my secrets to a memorable dinner finale.
For the best effect, wait until the dessert course is finished and then quietly set the stage for the tea’s arrival. Without calling attention to your action, remove all dishes, eating utensils and service plates so that nothing distracts from the ceremony about to unfold.

And don’t ever think of spoiling the mood by offering coffee!
Teacups should be placed in the middle of each placemat, rather than the right side, and in the same space where the dessert plate recently resided. Place a small amount of dry tea into a plain or glass dish for guests to see and smell, and share just a bit of information about the tea as they examine the leaves. For some, this may be the first time they have seen tea outside a grocery store teabag. You might also share the water temperature and steeping time for this particular tea. You don’t want the evening to end with a lecture, but be prepared for questions from your audience because they will undoubtedly be intrigued by this mysterious ceremony and want to know more.
At a late hour, a caffeine-free tea is usually preferred. If the party is larger, give the guests an option of  caffeine or non-caffeine teas. Here are a few of my recommendations for leaving your guests with a sweet memory lingering on their delighted tongues.   
Ginger Orange Infusion.  This blend of dried ginger, orange peel and lemon grass is the perfect combination for settling the tummy and refreshing your palate. It’s hard to over brew and the aroma is so soothing. Don’t worry about caffeine because this blend contains no tea leaves.
Rooibos.This popular herbal, made from the bark of a wild bush, is the national drink of South Africa. There, it’s taken “British style” with a bit of milk or sugar, while Americans tend to like their rooibos flavored with herbs or fruits. 
Herbals.Peppermint and chamomile are two of the most popular herbals for nighttime consumption. You can make your tea course a bit more intriguing if you serve a French Verveine (lemon verbena) or a Provence Tilleul made from the flowers and leaves of the Linden tree.
Jasmine Pearls. This is one of my dinner favorites because it adds a bit of theatre as diners watch the tiny pearls of green tea unfurl to reveal their spring-picked two leaves and a bud. The subtle jasmine aroma can be intoxicating for all the teetotalers at your dinner table.

The simple addition of a final tea course leaves your guests feeling a bit more sophisticated and all the more thankful for your thoughtfulness. You can be confident in the adage that once the kettle is lit and the teacup is placed before your guests, the tea works its centuries-old magic.

This article first appeared in the November 2011 edition of TeaTime magazine.
See all the tea-inspired books written by Tea Maestro Bruce Richardson.    

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