Afternoon tea is a long-time British tradition that is served with a small snack and a hot cup of the best English afternoon tea. It is known to have popularized in the 19th century by the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria, who complained of having a “sinking feeling” around 4PM in the afternoon. Since, at the time, it was common to only have two meals a day, the Duchess’ solution was to have an afternoon tea time accompanied by a small snack to reenergize her spirit. In time, the Duchess shared her new practice with friends by holding daily “tea time” at the Belvoir Castle and due to its great success; she continued this tradition when she returned to London. The refreshing practice soon spread across Britain and tea time became a formal occasion. Some of the most impressive tea receptions would host as many as 200 guests.
Originally during tea time, guests were served light snacks such bread and butter, but soon complimenting tea menus were developed. A traditional afternoon tea menu included a selection of small, cut up, “finger” sandwiches, freshly baked scones with creams and jams, different cakes and pastries, as well as an array of English teas.
Common teas to be served include:
- Assam, a strong, full-bodied tea from India with a thick and brisk malty flavor
- Darjeeling, a tea from India that is superb in taste and when brewed produces a bright, reddish color
- Earl Grey, traditionally a blend of Chinese and Indian teas scented with the oil from the citrus bergamot fruit (a type of orange)
Today, the traditional afternoon tea is still a staple in every hostess’ event book and is an ideal way to entertain friends and guests. The wonderful tradition can be experienced at many venues throughout England and has even made a footprint in many hotels and restaurants in the United States and all over the world.