FORGET ladies who lunch, the smart money is on ladies who take afternoon tea.
The quintessential British pastime has spawned a thriving industry, fanned by period dramas such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
But genteel ladies delicately sipping aromatic infusions are a world apart from the traders who source their liquid refreshment.
Expert tasters slurp the brew and roll it under their tongues to savour the flavour, according to third-generation tea merchant James Pogson.
Sucking up infusions in a manner resembling a human vacuum cleaner, James shared tips of his trade during the first Ultimate Tea Experience at Hartingtons School of Food in Bakewell.
Learning from the master broke the habit of a lifetime for the dozen students who had been weaned on the belief that nice ladies sip but never slurp.
As trainee tasters, we were taken out of our milk-and-two-sugars comfort zone and, thrust into a new world of teas with tantalising titles like Assam Tippy, Moroccan Mint and Jasmine Yin Bao Lotus.
James’ undiluted enthusiasm for his vocation inspired our tasting techniques as we worked and, eventually, slurped our way through a heady 14 brews, from a subtle lightweight Chinese white tea to a smoky, heavyweight Lapsang Souchong.
James, director of Northern Tea Merchants in Chesterfield, quenched our thirst for knowledge with an entertaining presentation on developments within the industry, peppered with anecdotes of his trips abroad to source new lines.
Tea tasting was followed by a walk around Bakewell, guided by Sally Moseley, from Over Haddon, who disclosed that chert rock, used in the process of making bone china, had been mined from a hillside above the town.
Sally provided a fascinating potted history while the architectural and natural features she highlighted en route gave seasoned visitors to the capital of the Peak District fresh food for thought.
After meandering along the bank of the river Wye and strolling down the town’s streets, we had worked up an appetite.
Back at Hartingtons base in Rutland Mill, the bunting was strung up, the Cava was chilling, the tea was brewing and the tables were festooned with mouth-watering food, fruit and freshly-picked daffodils.
Bite-size sandwiches filled with salmon and cream cheese, Wensleydale and beetroot chutney, egg and cress launched the teatime feast. The cake stands were a work of art, decorated with chocolate brownie, vanilla and blueberry cake, lemon curd tart and orange and almond cake as well as miniature scones with fresh fruit, jam and cream.
Heaven on a plate, served up by Lorna Macnamara from Heavenlies of Dronfield, was a fitting finale to The Ultimate Tea Experience.
l Hartingtons hosts its next Ultimate Tea Experience on May 11, costing £35 per person. Call (01629) 888 586 or email www.hartingtons.com