When it comes to tradition, there is nothing more quintessentially British than a spot of afternoon tea. Ask anyone outside of the UK what springs to mind when they hear “British cuisine” and you can be fairly certain that tea and scones will be high up on the list.
But what is the history behind afternoon tea and how did it become so popular?
As self-proclaimed tea lovers, we decided that it was only right to do a little digging. Here is everything you need to know about Britain’s beloved afternoon ritual.
What is Afternoon Tea?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Afternoon tea is “a light meal eaten in the afternoon, usually consisting of tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes”. Whilst many tea rooms and eateries stick to these traditional components, you will find that some places also offer savoury snacks such as pork pies and quiches, as well as champagne for those wanting a more indulgent afternoon treat.
Here is what you can expect from a “traditional” afternoon tea:
Whether you put the milk in first or last is a highly contested issue. However, when it comes to afternoon tea, nowadays, most Brits will agree that it’s got to be “English Breakfast” or “Builder’s Tea”. Herbal teas and Earl Grey just do not cut the mustard!
Generally speaking, traditional scones are made from a simple dough containing flour, milk, baking powder, butter and sugar. However, you might be lucky enough to find that your scone is speckled with juicy currants or candied fruit. For the accoutrements, no scone is complete without jam and cream.
The cream itself needs to be firm enough to stay put on top of the scone in a heavenly pile of delicious dairy goodness and, to achieve that, you need Clotted Cream. (Pssst…the order in which you place the jam and cream onto the scone is yet another topic for debate – so choose wisely!)
One thing about afternoon tea that sets it apart from other meals is the fact that, from the cakes to the jam pots, almost everything on the menu is miniature (and the sandwiches are no exception). Expect neatly cut finger sandwiches that you can pick up and pop into your mouth with ease. Typically, the fillings will be served on soft, white sandwich bread with the crusts removed.
This is where things can vary. As it stands, there is no direct rule stating which cakes or sweet treats should be served along with an afternoon tea. That said, in a more traditional British afternoon tea, you are most likely to find options such as mini Victoria sponges, Scottish shortbreads and Carrot Cake slices.
The History of Afternoon Tea
Now that you know precisely what afternoon tea is, you might be wondering where it came from and who invented it?
According to Historic UK, afternoon tea came about in 1840, when Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, requested a tray of tea, bread, butter and cake in the late afternoon to tide her over until dinner time. At the time, Anna became quite accustomed to her afternoon snack and started to invite her companions around to join her. By the 1880s, this ritual had been adopted by women of the upper classes who would change into their finest attire to dine with friends between 4 and 5 pm in the afternoon.
Since then, afternoon tea has grown in popularity and continues to be enjoyed across the globe. Today you’ll find it served in cafes, hotels and restaurants both inside and outside of the UK. It seems people just can’t get enough of this tasty afternoon treat!
What is the Difference Between High Tea and Afternoon Tea?
You may have heard the term “High Tea” thrown around and wondered how it distinguishes from traditional afternoon tea. Well, according to Tea Time Magazine, they are simply not the same thing. In fact, many wrongly assume that “high tea” is a rather fancier affair yet this is not the case. According to the magazine, “High tea gets its name from its tendency to be served at a high table, like a dining table or high counter, at the end of the workday”. It is also less refined than traditional afternoon tea and generally includes foods such as eggs, meat and fish which are served in the early evening.
When is Afternoon Tea Served?
As we mentioned previously, the Duchess of Bedford liked to enjoy her afternoon tea around 4 pm so that she could stave off her hunger rather than waiting for her “fashionably late” dinner at 8 pm. Since then, not much has changed. According to NPR, around 3 or 4 pm is often agreed to be a popular choice for afternoon tea today, however, any time from 12 pm onwards is generally considered acceptable.
What To Wear For Afternoon Tea
When it comes to what to wear for afternoon tea in 2022, a ball gown or tux is perhaps a little OTT. That being said, many afternoon tea lovers embrace the opportunity to showcase their favourite outfits or simply smarten up for the occasion. If you’re struggling to get inspired, a general rule of thumb is to go for smart casual.
In the spring and summer months, ditsy florals and tea dresses are a popular choice for women, whilst men might opt for a smart shirt and jeans. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, just make sure you leave enough room for the cake!
Where can I Try Afternoon Tea?
It’s only natural – there is only so much talk of tea and cake that one can handle before starting to feel a little peckish. So, if our article has got your mouth watering, and you’re looking for a place to eat in Malvern where you can treat yourself to an afternoon tea, look no further than The Mulberry Tree Restaurant. Our handy central location is easy to get to and you’ll be spoilt for choice with our delectable selection of tasty sandwiches, homemade scones and irresistible cakes.
Fancy treating a loved one to afternoon tea, why not purchase them a restaurant gift voucher?