A cup of tea at this time of the afternoon is usually gratefully accepted, and one is disappointed if it is made so badly that it is not drinkable. The young lady who presides at the tea table at an afternoon reception has sometimes a difficult task if the tea is not prepared with a bag (as directed on page 550), but for the unceremonious social cup of tea with the friend who drops in at this hour it is easy to have it just right. After the proper preparation of the tea (as directed on page 549), the attractiveness of the table and the delicacy of the china are the next things to be desired. Tea does not taste as well taken from a coarse, large, or heavy cup. The taste and refinement of the hostess are easily recognized in this very unceremonious, but very social, function. The cloth may be as elaborate as one wishes, but it must above all be spotless, unwrinkled and dainty. The cups may all differ from one another, but each one should be small and thin, and the steaming kettle, which lends cheerfulness to the occasion, should be highly polished, whether it be silver, brass, or copper. A dry biscuit or a thin piece of bread and butter is usually offered with the tea. Fresh unsalted butter is preferable, but any of the fine butters may be used. The butter is spread very evenly on the loaf; the bread sliced very thin and doubled like a sandwich. It may be cut into any shape desired, such as strips, diamonds, or triangles. It is attractive stamped into circles with a biscuit-cutter of about the size of a silver dollar.
Three kinds of bread maybe used - white, graham, and Boston brown bread, and all may be served on the same plate. This simple dish is carried into the esthetics in some English houses, where the bread and butter is described as tasting of roses, violets, clover, or nasturtiums. The flavor is obtained by shutting the fresh butter in a tight jar with the blossoms for several hours. Butter very readily absorbs flavors and odors, indeed it is the medium used for extracting perfumes in the manufacture of those articles. The flavored butter is spread in the ordinary way on the bread, which has been treated also to a bath of flowers. Butter sandwiches must be exceedingly thin and shapely, and have no suggestion of mussiness. They should be laid in a folded napkin to keep them fresh. Any sweet wafers may also be used, but as this is not a meal, nothing should be offered which will take away the appetite for dinner, which follows shortly afterward.