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A Brief History of Afternoon Tea

The fine British tradition of ’Afternoon tea’ is said to have been invented by Anna Maria, the wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford, who in 1841 started drinking tea and having a bite to eat in the mid-afternoon, to tide her over during the long gap between lunch (eaten at about 1 o'clock) and dinner, which in fashionable circles might not be served until 8pm at night.

This developed into a social occasion, with guests being invited to join her for afternoon tea at 5pm and by the 1860s the fashion for afternoon tea had become widespread. At such occasions, tea was served in the best china and delicate sandwiches, minus their crusts, and cakes would be served on small plates.  Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early afternoon tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years appearing on the menu of many tea rooms and high class hotels, a treat for tourists and for celebrating special occasions. The tea offered generally includes traditional favourites such as Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong often includes a range of single estate black teas and other teas. Some hotels even have a tea sommelier to advise on the provenance of the tea and help guests select their tea.

Finger sandwiches, delicate cakes, pastries and scones with jam and clotted cream remain popular ingredients with typical sandwich fillings including: smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise, cucumber and cream cheese.  The traditional way to serve afternoon tea is sandwiches followed by scones then finally the cake, using fine china and a tiered cake stand - the challenge is to leaving enough room to squeeze in a dainty cake (or two).

Take a look at our Afternoon Blogger Carnival entries for homemade cake and scone recipes and dainty table decorations.

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