By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Cultural traditions around the world are alike in many ways. In other words, a common thread links us together as human beings. Take for example, the German tradition of the Kaffeeklatsch compared to the English tradition of Afternoon Tea. Although these traditions share a common purpose, they are vastly different in practice.
Broken down, the word Kaffeeklatsch means “coffee gossip”. The meaning of the word will tell you a lot about what goes on at this event. Naturally, coffee is served and “klatsch” means to gossip. The Kaffeeklatsch was a women’s activity. Now, that is assuming that only women gossip. I know that’s not true because women get lots of information from men.
The klatschen group, meeting in the afternoon, usually consisted of four to twelve women who had something in common, like family, interests, etc. The two groups that I remember as a child were both family groups, my mother’s Roessing relatives and my paternal grandmother’s Rose relatives. As a child, I didn’t have much to contribute but I learned a lot. This is where I picked up a lot of German. My mother’s family spoke mostly English, but my grandmother’s group spoke mostly German. Both groups would switch into German when they were saying something that they didn’t want the children to understand.
The best dishes were used. You honored your guests with the best that you had to offer – no paper products, fresh flowers picked from the yard and cloth tablecloths and napkins.
The food at the Kaffeeklatsch consisted of sandwiches of kochkäse, cucumber on crème cheese, sardine spread and the traditional open-faced sandwich with butter and thinly sliced venison sausage. In the early days, water cress gathered from the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers was spread on white bread and crème cheese. During WWII, Spam salad sandwiches made their appearance for the first time. There was always one special cake and cookies on the side. The old NB cookbooks are full of special cakes that every woman knew how to bake but that took a long time. My favorites were the Blitzkuchen (lightning cake because it did look a little like lightning struck it), the Potato Cake, (a chocolate cake with a whole cup of mashed potatoes), Sauerkraut Cake with a full cup of sauerkraut. The cookies and candies were loaded with pecans because they were so prevalent.
The English tradition of afternoon tea, on the other hand, was much more formal. Recently I had Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Compare their menu with the Kaffeeklatsch menu:
Smoked salmon pinwheel sandwiches, Cucumber sandwiches with saffron loaf, Free range egg salad sandwiches in a croissant, Cognak Park Pate’ on sundried potato bread; then, Lemon curd tartlets, Chocolate tartlets, Rose Petal shortbread, Parisian macaroons, and their specialty–Scones with butter, clotted cream and raspberry preserves.
A delightful little book about tea by Muriel Moffat tells that at the Empress Hotel the drinking of tea, whether hot or cold, began more than 5,000 years ago in China. According to Moffat, the Chinese Emperor Sheen Nun in 2737 discovered tea by accident. The legend goes that Sheen Nun was resting in his garden sipping boiled water. A few dried leaves fell from a tree into the cauldron of water. The result was a delicate aroma and a change in the water color to brown. He tasted it and found it pleasant so he told his servants to cultivate the plant called “Camellia Sinensis” and tea was born.
The tea culture spread throughout China and for many centuries the purpose of tea was medicinal and spiritual. Legend says that the English started drinking tea in 1650 when King Charles II’s queen brought her tea habit with her from Portugal. Before tea was introduced, the British ate two meals a day – breakfast and dinner. The royals found that another meal was needed between the two meals.
In 1840 Ann Marie, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, after experiencing a sinking feeling late in the afternoon, began Afternoon Tea. Inviting her friends over, at about 4:00 o’clock, they were served small cakes, sandwiches and sweets and of course, Tea.
Afternoon Tea was a social event enjoyed by ladies who wanted to be seen at the right place at the right time and with the right company. That was not the case with the Kaffeeklatsch. This group was not interested in being seen by anyone else and the right place was in the home.
You have probably heard of “High Tea”, but have you heard of “Low Tea”? High Tea was served at the dining table or kitchen table and was less a social event but more of a meal for the manual laborer and farmer. Served at 7 or 8 p.m., it consisted of meat, cheese, thick sandwiches, coddled eggs, scones and pies, and was the main meal of the day. “Low Tea” on the other hand was generally served from a low table in the parlor and was more of a social gathering. Low Tea eventually evolved into Afternoon Tea.
The Sophienburg is working on an exhibit of Grimm Fairy Tales and one of the tales is “One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes”. The story has to do with tables of food and the exhibit shows this with its collection of miniature tables set with tea sets. Although this particular story is not directly about Kaffeeklatsch and Afternoon Tea, there is a social connection to food. Look for this big exhibit in September.