The ships that brought tea from China and Japan also returned to Europe with all manner of other cargo including tea bowls, porcelain pots and quaint porcelain jars. Like the new exotic drink that had become popular with wealthy people, these items too became highly sought after and were synonymous with the luxurious experience of drinking tea. To this day, we still associate a refined tea party as including ‘the best china’ to go along with it.
Because tea itself was expensive, servants were not allowed to handle it themselves. The lady of the house would keep tea in Chinese jars in her closet alongside the cups and pot until it was time to offer some to guests. She wore the key to the closet around her neck to make sure it was completely safe.
At this point, a servant would bring out furniture, set up the tea making equipment and bring in a kettle of boiling water. Then it was up to the lady herself to brew the leaves and pour the tea into little handle-less Chinese bowls to serve to her guests.
Drinking tea with guests continued to evolve and certain patterns and rituals started which would transform afternoon tea into what we know it as today.