What is Afternoon Tea?
Afternoon Tea is a tea-related ritual, introduced in Britain in the early 1840s. It evolved as a mini meal to stem the hunger and anticipation of an evening meal at 8pm.
Afternoon Tea is a meal composed of sandwiches (usually cut delicately into 'fingers'), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes. Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.
Afternoon Tea was initially developed as a private social event for ladies who climbed the echelons of society. It was only when Queen Victoria engaged in the Afternoon Tea ritual that it became a formal occasion on a larger scale, known as 'tea receptions'.
These receptions could have as many as two hundred guests with an open 'at home' invitation to visit between 4pm and 7pm, during which they could come and go as they pleased; this was the genesis of the Afternoon Tea as we know it.
In Britain today Afternoon Tea is usually enjoyed as an occasional indulgence or to celebrate a special event such as a birthday, or a pre-wedding or baby shower party with a group of friends.
History Of Afternoon Tea
Tea consumption increased dramatically during the early nineteenth century and it is around this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have complained of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon. At the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day, breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot a tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.
Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
Occasionally you will see hotels serving a 'high tea'. Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a 'low' or 'afternoon' tea around four o'clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial 'high' tea later in the day, at five or six o'clock, in place of a late dinner. The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.
any visitors from overseas still imagine that we are a nation where, in the words of the well-known song, 'at half past three, everything stops for tea'. Sadly these days Afternoon Tea is usually only an occasional luxury for the British; a birthday treat in a country house hotel, or a welcome break from a hectic days shopping 'in town'. Luckily the tourist is still able to indulge in a little bit of British tradition for themself.
There are no set rules about the content of a traditional Afternoon Tea menu, but it usually consists of sandwiches and a variety of sweet items. A typical menu might read:
Traditional Afternoon Tea Menu
A selection of freshly prepared finger sandwiches
Warm scones with clotted cream and preserves
A variety of home made cakes and pastries
Your choice from a range of teas
What types of sandwiches are served with Afternoon Tea?
The classic selection of sandwiches served with Afternoon Tea includes:
What is a Cream Tea?
A 'Cream Tea' is generally scones, clotted cream and preserve served with a pot of tea.
What is Champagne Afternoon Tea?
Many hotels also offer set menus that include a glass of Champagne with the Traditional Afternoon Tea, or the option to add a glass of Champagne for an additional charge.
What types of tea are served?
The range of teas on offer can vary from half a dozen to over a hundred, including some very rare and obscure ones. Some of the common teas on offer will include the following:
A strong full-bodied tea from India, which has a distinctive, 'malty' flavour.
An aromatic and astringent tea from India, with a hint of almonds and wildflowers.
A blend of black teas scented with oil of bergamot named after Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.
A Chinese tea fired over smoking pine needles, which produces a striking smoky odour and flavour.
The drinking of tea not only became a social event for the upper classes, it altered the time and manner in which they took tea. Afternoon Tea became the bridge between meals because many wouldn't eat their evening meal until maybe 8pm. As such, Afternoon Tea became a 'mini meal' in itself.
This was all well and good for the upper classes, but the working classes ran to a different schedule and a different budget. Tea was still quite expensive at the time and the working classes could not afford to waste it on anything other than necessities. A wearied factory worker wouldn't arrive home until six in the evening, and when he did, he was famished! Thus, in the industrial areas of the UK (northern England and southern Scotland), the working classes evening meal evolved: high tea.
English High Tea usually involved a mug of tea, bread, vegetables, cheese and occasionally meat. Variations on high tea could include the addition of pies, potatoes and crackers.
So while Afternoon Tea was largely a social event for their upper class counterparts, high tea was a necessary meal in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This traditional high tea still exists for some parts of the North and Scotland.
Why is it called 'high tea'?
A possible explanation why this type of meal was called high tea is the fact that it was eaten at a table. In comparison, Afternoon Tea was taken whilst seating in low, comfortable chairs or sofas. Of course, soon after, the upper classes developed their own variation and also called it 'high tea'. It was a meal that could be eaten when their servants were away or not available, as it was so easy to prepare. The upper class 'high tea' involved the amalgamation of Afternoon Tea and high tea, with the addition of pigeon, veal, salmon and fruit.
It is important to add that the Afternoon Tea menu served in the UK today is often refered to as high tea in many other parts of the world. Because of this some hotels, such as The Ritz in London, use the term 'High tea in London' to advertise their Afternoon Tea because a large proportion of their customers are from overseas.
Some venues do serve a special high tea menu, in addition to Afternoon Tea, which includes additional savoury items such as Welsh Rarebit, English muffins, pies or omelette.
Particularly in my home this is all tradition.
It depends on the lunch time which is very varied, in the afternoon eat something.
As the climate is very hot it is opted for an ice cream or sweet ice cream.
In winter, as we are now, we opt for a sweet or salty popcorn with hot coffee or hot milk chocolate or a stuffed baked bread.
My mom and I used to have a cuppa in the afternoon and a light snack. It was our way of relaxing. If relatives showed up after shopping(our house was handy for that)we'd work up a bit more. There was always something we could whip up.