Afternoon tea traditions and etiquette

Afternoon tea traditions and etiquette

A history of the invention of afternoon tea.

For those that don't know, afternoon tea first rose to popularity in the 1840s thanks to Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and friend of Queen Victoria. Due to the invention of gas lighting, dinner at this time was served fashionably late, often as late as 8 pm. The Dutchess got hungry at about 4 pm and so would ask for tea, small sandwiches, cakes and pastries to be brought to her chambers. This quickly became a great opportunity to socialise in a less formal way than dinner. In the early days, these were at home affairs but by Edwardian times we saw the rise of tea rooms and women were able to meet in public without ruining their reputations and so the tea room became the setting for elegant afternoon teas. This made afternoon teas more accessible to the emerging middle classes.  These days it is a quintessentially British ritual, to be taken at any time throughout the world. 

What should you serve at Afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea is traditionally served all at the same time but is in 3 distinct courses.

  • First comes the finger sandwiches - perhaps cucumber, beef or salmon always with the crusts cut off. Sometimes this course also includes a small quiche or sausage roll.
  • Then comes the scones - with cream and Jam of course! Preferably clotted cream. Plain or fruit scones can be served but should always be warm.
  • Last but not least are the cakes and sweet treats! Here is where you can really let your creativity flow, if you are a baker you can make your own or have fun finding a local bakery!

We highly encourage you to add regional or personal twists to the traditional fare. Perhaps welsh cakes in Wales or Dundee cake in Scotland. Perhaps you colour theme your cakes, remember tradition is great but this is your afternoon treat. Of course, no Afternoon tea would be complete without.......TEA! But what should you serve?

What tea to serve at Afternoon tea

So what is the perfect tea to serve, well we have a few suggestions!

  • For the Queens Platinum Jubilee why not try our Jubilee blend. A second flush Darjeeling blended with jasmine for a regal brew.
  • To complement the cakes how about a cream earl grey, we add vanilla to the blend to make a creamier more luxurious experience
  • What about a green tea to clear your palate between courses, try our Chun mee The slightly smokey profile is perfect for offsetting all that sugar!
  • You may want to opt for a traditional Assam or English Breakfast if your guests are more traditional in their taste

The important thing is that it's a tea you feel adds luxury to the table, which of course means it must be loose leaf! We thoroughly encourage using the most extravagant teapot you own and fancy or silly cups to add flair to the event. 

How to serve tea (Milk first?)

The host should make the tea in the kitchen and let it brew to perfection at the table. Once brewed the host should serve the tea to guests and let them then add their own milk, lemon or sugar to taste. The reason for adding milk first was to protect delicate bone china. These days cups are made in a much more robust way and have been for 100 years. Serving the tea first allows the guest to judge how much milk is required for the tea you have brewed. 

What is the difference between a cream tea and Afternoon tea?

Cream tea is a simpler affair. Instead of three courses, there is just one! Tea is served in the pot alongside scones, jam and cream. There is a lot of argument around whether jam or cream should be put on the scone first. Well, we are always of the opinion that it is your scone and you should do as you please. But the Queen puts the jam on first so that probably settles it from an etiquette point of view.

What time is afternoon tea served?

In the beginning afternoon tea was served at 4 or 5 pm as dinner was from 8 to 9 pm. So it really depends on what time you will be enjoying your next meal. Afternoon tea is a filling affair these days and most people opt to skip a meal! Hotels and restaurants mostly offer afternoon tea from 2 - 4 pm 

What are your afternoon tea traditions? Have you ever hosted one at home? Remember to tag us in your tea pictures on social media! We love to see your tea rituals and share them with our followers.


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