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East Moline tea party

Under the scrutiny of Victoria Aura, right, Carol Hawking prepares tea at a tea party recently in East Moline.

EAST MOLINE — When Carol Hawking of Bettendorf decided to throw a tea party, she had no idea if anyone would be interested.

Seats sold out in the Moon River Magic Lecture Hall a week before the East Moline event.

"I wanted to make tea great again," said Hawking. "I have loved tea since I was a little girl when I shared afternoon tea with my Irish great-grandmother.”

Hawking said when she was 11 that same great-grandmother taught her how to read tea leaves.

"I’ve been practicing and improving my skills ever since," Hawking said. "But what I really love is the elegance of a formal afternoon tea event."

Hawking set her main table formally with antique china teacups and hors d’oeuvre plates. Other places were set at small tables around couches and chairs.

By tradition, there were no forks — but plenty of scones.

Guests were offered a variety of teas: black tea, such as English Breakfast, Blackberry and Earl Grey; green tea, such as Green Rose, oolong and jasmine; and herbal tea, such as Long Life Tea.

As each cup was brewed individually by Hawking, guests helped themselves to skewers of watermelon and bleu cheese, green olives and colby cheese and pesto and mozzarella cheese.

Then, in Downton Abbey style, Hawking served individual items: sandwiches such as tuna with dill and chicken breast with cranberries; breads such as zucchini, banana, cornbread and apple cinnamon scones; and desserts such as snicker doodles and raspberry mousse.

Hawking said she prepared the items herself over three days.

Tea was brought to England in the 1600 when Catherine of Braganza in Portugal married Charles II," Hawking said. Anna Marie Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is credited with introducing afternoon tea in England around 1840 because she was hungry between meals and asked for tea with bread and butter.

The Earl of Sandwich came up with putting filling between the bread, Hawking said. Russell, a life-long friend of Queen Victoria, served afternoon tea to the queen. Between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., high society children were dressed up after naps and brought to parents while finger foods were served.

By 1880, afternoon tea time became very formal for the rich. Women wore formal clothes with long gloves in a practice that remained popular through the 1920s, Hawking said.

Working class people joined tea time, she said, because “if it was good enough for the queen, they wanted to do it too." High Tea came after work, and the more substantial food was considered an evening meal.

Hawking said many people in the United Kingdom today pause for tea. Typically, she said, afternoon tea in hotels with one or two types of finger food runs $11. Hawking charged $15 for her recent family-friendly event in East Moline.

"I wanted people to see the variety of choices with an afternoon tea," she said. “I hope the event can happen here quarterly at the beginning of each season."

Three generations of the Aura family attended the event. The children, dressed in their princess attire, sipped tea at the table.

"I left (8-month-old) Gracie home," said Rae Martin of Milan. "Somehow I could not see myself juggling both her and a cup of tea."

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