Pulling up to the location for the World Tea Society’s social gathering on Saturday was a real Jane Austen moment. Specifically, the one where Jennifer Ehle, playing Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, sucks in her breath when confronted with the splendor of Colin Firth’s—I mean Mr. Darcy’s—palatial home. The setting for the first public tea held by this recently created society was designed to impress: a very large house in an elite Athens neighborhood, complete with a large lake and picture perfect geese wandering the grounds.
The World Tea Society was founded by close friends Heather Leigh and Von Ditthavong as a way for friends in the Athens and Atlanta area to gather and celebrate the tradition of tea. The organization is dedicated to the culture of tea: its history, its etiquette and its art.
And, frankly, it was also created to give people an opportunity to dress up. On Saturday, gloves and hats were provided for anyone remiss in their attire. Women wore stylish vintage dresses, many with petticoats underneath for '50s-style flare. Most of the hats on view were elaborate creations covered in silk flowers, feathers or tulle. One attendee wore an outfit she had created for the event with the help of a friend: a full skirt printed with carrots and a coordinating small straw hat with a large bunch of faux carrots on top.
“When we’re out, people always wanted to know what we were celebrating,” Leigh mentioned from underneath her massive red straw hat festooned with roses. “Ladies used to do this at least once a month.” She went on to say that the group finds the gatherings to be meaningful time spent together without all the typical scrolling through social media.
The group visited the Roswell Tea House in February. “We were the only ones dressed up there. Everyone wanted to take pictures of us,” member Kristin Casanas recalled. A resident of Atlanta, Casanas was in Athens for Saturday’s social and brought her roommate, one of two young men at the event, along.
A goal of founder Heather Leigh is for the group to visit all of the tea houses in Georgia.
After mixing and mingling and a little croquet, guests were seated at tables by the pool. White tablecloths with festive yellow toppers brimmed with fine china adorned with floral motifs and gold rims. Centerpieces consisted of small silver urns overflowing with peonies, white climbing and pink heirloom roses, and herbs—all arranged by Heather Leigh. The flowers and greenery were all gathered from her own garden. “Heather is like a living pinterest board,” one guest gushed.
Over conversations about tea, gardening, where to find great vintage gloves (if you can’t get them locally, try Etsy) and social media, the guests enjoyed traditional offerings of sweets and savories. Silver tiered servers were stacked with blueberry scones from Kiki’s Bakeshop, cream puffs, green tea macarons and strawberry cupcakes. Crustless tea sandwiches were filled with cucumber, chicken salad with tarragon or egg salad. Clotted cream and homemade preserves iced the cake.
There was tea and lots of it, both iced and hot. Strawberry cream tea proved less popular than the chocolate and coconut.
After the luncheon, Maria Whitman, the creator and owner of All Hearted Soul Teas, came to speak to the group about her business. Coming straight from selling her herbal blends at the Indie South Fair in downtown Athens, her attire was a little more casual. But it was her dedication to tea that was of interest to the group. Several nodded in agreement when she said “It’s medicine. I think tea is the simplest form of medicine you can take daily.”
For more information, please go to www.worldteasociety.com. You can also find the World Tea Society and All Hearted Soul Teas on Facebook.