DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have my grandmother’s silver plate coffee and tea service. There are three pots; one has a warming stand. Besides the sugar bowl, there is another bowl someone told me was the “slop bowl.” Please tell me how one makes tea with a set such as this?
GENTLE READER: Charmingly, as you are now equipped to do. (Yes, yes, Miss Manners acknowledges that you might manage to be charming when offering a mug and a tea bag, but that is not a charming way of serving tea.)
The large pot with the warming stand is for hot water, the middle-sized one is for tea leaves in a lesser amount of hot water (both to be rinsed with hot water before filling), and the small pitcher is for milk. The slops (sic) bowl is necessary because fresh tea and the soothing conviviality that it produces keep people coming back for more.
For the first cup, you use the extra-hot water to adjust the strength of the tea to the tea drinker’s taste, bearing in mind that the longer the leaves steep, the stronger the teapot’s contents will be.
Such are the delights of afternoon tea that tea itself is often neglected, and those who come back for seconds will present you with not-quite-empty cups, at the bottom of which will be a tiny, cold, messy puddle. It may contain a few drenched tea leaves (even though, of course, you strained the tea when you poured that first cup).
That’s what goes into the slops bowl before you pour fresh hot tea into the cup: slops.