The History of Afternoon Tea

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea"

Britain is a nation full of age-old tradition. One such time old custom cherished by Britons is the afternoon tea, which is almost an essential part of their daily routine, if you happen to be living in Great Britain or visiting them. This quintessential tradition has a very interesting history associated to it. 

Although the custom of having tea traces back its roots to, as far as the third millennium BC in China, the activity took an aristocratic touch when it started to be practiced in England, in 1660 by King Charles II and his Portuguese Wife Catherine de Braganza.

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Tea etiquette

How this activity of having tea, turned into a complete socializing event of afternoon tea, has a very interesting background to it. The story goes that the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna was the one who laid the roots for this tradition in England in 1840. Finding that she had a ‘sinking feeling’ of hunger between the hours of lunch and dinner she ordered that some tea along with bread and butter and cake, be brought to her room at around 4 p.m. The activity was so absorbing in itself that Anna started inviting her friends over to afternoon tea and it shifted from her room to the formality of drawing rooms. The Duchess would send proper invitation cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walk in the parks”.

Afternoon tea soon became viral in the fashionable society of those times, people started cherishing tea with numerous other side delicacies such as sandwiches, in the middle of the afternoon. Ladies would change into long gowns and fancy gloves to gather over tea in elite drawing rooms and socialize with their friends. Over time it turned into a British tradition, equally popular amongst the upper as well as middle and lower classes.

Today the ritual of afternoon tea is served with several side delicacies such as scones with jam and clotted cream, smoked salmon, egg and cress and thin cucumber sandwiches, cakes and cream snacks. Within the upper class the tradition is still practiced in its older form where tea is poured from silver teapots into fine china cups to guests who are well dressed for the occasion. However one can adopt a more casual touch, with tea being served in mugs along with simple English cakes or pastries.

In present day England if you want to experience the true indulgence of the English afternoon tea ritual, you must visit some of London’s finest hotels such as, The Dorchester, The Ritz, The Chesterfield and the Egerton House Hotel. Traditional tearooms are also renowned for their afternoon teas and Devonshire or Cornish cream teas. You could always complement your English afternoon tea with a flute of Champagne, to make it an English Royal afternoon tea.