Afternoon tea is a well-known and loved English tradition.
It was started in the 1800s by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. At the time, people only ate two main meals a day – breakfast and dinner, with dinner being at 8 pm. Anna began taking tea and a snack in her private boudoir in the afternoon to fill the long break between breakfast and dinner. Friends were later invited to join the Duchess for afternoon tea.
As the idea of tea and a snack in the afternoon became popular, it became respectable enough to have it in the dining room. Before long, afternoon tea was the fashionable thing to do.
However, it didn’t become a formal affair until Queen Victoria adopted the habit of afternoon tea. This caused it to evolve into a “tea reception” where up to 200 guests could randomly visit between 4 and 7 pm.
When is Afternoon Tea?
Traditionally, the upperclass had afternoon tea at 4 pm, just before everyone took their daily walk in Hyde Park. It was also called “low” tea because it was served on low tables (like a coffee table).
The middle and lower classes had their version at 5 or 6 pm. The food served was much more substantial, as it generally took the place of dinner. It was called “high” tea because it was served at the dinner table.
Afternoon tea isn’t as common nowadays. Lives are too busy for it to be a regular practice. It’s usually reserved as a special treat or a break from a busy day.
Afternoon Tea Menu
A menu typically consists of
- Small “finger” sized sandwiches with the crusts removed
- Scones with clotted cream and jam
- A range of teas
Sandwich fillings usually include:
- Ham and mustard
- Egg mayonnaise and watercress
- Cucumber and cream cheese
- Cheddar cheese and chutney
- Smoked salmon and butter
- Chicken salad
It’s interesting to note that scones are actually a recent addition. They weren’t included until the early 1900s.