Last week was National Afternoon Tea week. Of course, every week is afternoon tea week for us but it’s nice to see everybody talking about one of our favourite things!
To celebrate, here's a feature on the history of Afternoon Tea.
A Victorian Tradition
Afternoon Tea was conceived as the ‘bridge’ between lunch and supper. Evening meals were not usually served until at least 8pm, so it was designed to stave off hunger pangs.
The idea was created by the Duchess of Bedford, Anna 7th, in the early 1800s. She started to have a tray of tea with bread and butter served to her in the afternoon. This became a regular occurrence, so she invited other ladies to join her – the perfect excuse for a social get together.
It swiftly became a very fashionable event. Upper class women would change into their best gowns, hats and gloves, and would take their tea in the drawing room. Eventually, Queen Victoria herself picked up on the idea, and it became a formal occasion known as a ‘tea reception.’
The aristocracy would host these receptions in their stately homes and would invite as many as two hundred people to visit! This is where Afternoon Tea as we know it today was born.
What is ‘High Tea’?
While wealthy people would enjoy afternoon tea as a treat, working class people in the 19th Century were not able to afford this luxury. However, imported tea was becoming increasingly popular and affordable, and ordinary families did not want to miss out! Therefore, ‘high tea’ was a meal eaten in the early evening. It was more substantial, and could have included bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, pies, potatoes, etc. – along with the mug of tea.
It was named high tea because the family would eat it around the dinner table, whereas afternoon tea was eaten on comfortable, low chairs.
Afternoon Tea today
Over the years, Afternoon Tea evolved into the meal we know today; finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes. However, scones were not considered an essential part of Afternoon Tea until the twentieth century. Strange to think, as we couldn’t imagine serving it without them now.
Fortunately, Afternoon Tea can be enjoyed by people of all different backgrounds today, although it’s still seen as a special treat and an occasion to dress up. We love seeing all the stylish groups of ladies coming into the tea rooms to celebrate their birthdays, engagements, or baby showers! In recent years, we’ve noticed a resurgence in the tradition of Afternoon Tea – thanks to establishments such as Ladurée and Harrods making it fashionable once more – and we truly hope it’s here to stay.