Afternoon tea is a beloved tradition in many parts of the world. It usually takes place between 3pm and 5pm, when people take a break from their work or daily routine to enjoy a cup of tea and some snacks. Whether you call it high tea, low tea, cream tea, or just afternoon tea, this ritual is taken seriously in many cultures. In this article, we will explore the history and customs of afternoon tea.
The origins of afternoon tea
The practice of drinking tea originated in China in the 3rd century AD. However, it was the British who popularized afternoon tea in the 19th century. The credit for introducing afternoon tea to England goes to Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. In the early 1800s, dinner was served around 8pm, and the duchess found that she was getting hungry in the late afternoon. To appease her hunger, she started having tea and small snacks in the mid-afternoon. This eventually became a habit and she started inviting friends over for tea and sandwiches. This trend soon caught on amongst the upper class and became a symbol of wealth and status.
The components of afternoon tea
Traditional afternoon tea consists of three courses: savory sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and sweet pastries or cakes. The type of tea served can vary, but black teas like Earl Grey and Darjeeling are popular choices. The sandwiches are typically made with thinly sliced bread and fillings like cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon and cream cheese, or egg salad. Scones are served warm and are typically accompanied by strawberry jam and clotted cream. The sweet course can include cakes, pastries, and biscuits. Some popular choices include Victoria Sponge cake, Battenberg cake, and macarons.
The etiquette of afternoon tea
Afternoon tea has some strict rules of etiquette that you should be aware of if you’re attending one. Firstly, you should dress appropriately – smart casual wear is recommended. When the tea is poured, you should first add milk to your cup and then the tea. Never add the milk after the tea as this can scald the milk. The correct order for eating the food is sandwiches first, then scones, and finally the sweet course. You should use the tea strainer, provided to remove any loose tea leaves before drinking your tea. Lastly, it’s important to note that it is impolite to lift the pinky finger while drinking tea, as this is not a sign of sophistication but rather a sign of affectation.
In conclusion, afternoon tea is not just a time to drink tea and eat snacks, it is a beloved tradition steeped in history and culture. Whether you’re in England, China, or any other part of the world, afternoon tea is always an elegant and enjoyable experience.