The History of Afternoon Tea

With dainty finger sandwiches, delicate little cakes and delicious scones with lashings of jam and cream, there’s nothing quite so quintessentially British as afternoon tea. As a nation, afternoon tea has been one of our favourite pastimes since the early 19th century.

But the popularity of TV shows like The Great British Bake Off in recent years has given this great British culinary tradition a whole new lease of life. The British aristocracy is said to have introduced the tradition of afternoon tea. In 1840 Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford started to dine on bread, butter and tea in the afternoon, as a bridge between breakfast and supper. The Duchess began to invite her friends to join her, and before long afternoon tea was established as a private social function across fashionable society.

Today, afternoon tea is enjoyed throughout the world. From traditional afternoon tea to champagne afternoon tea and cream tea, this treasured tradition has never been more popular. Read on to discover some interesting facts about our favourite pastime…

6 interesting facts about afternoon tea

Scones didn’t feature in afternoon tea until the 20 th century. The correct order in which jam and cream should be spread onto a scone varies according to where you come from. According to tradition, if you’re from Devon, it’s cream first and then jam, whilst people in Cornwall prefer to add jam first followed by cream.

Afternoon tea was introduced as a social event for the upper classes. Unlike afternoon tea, high tea was a much more substantial meal comprising of tea, bread, cakes, meat and pies. Traditionally enjoyed by the working classes, it became popular in Britain during the 19 th century Industrial Revolution. High tea still exists in some parts of Northern England and Scotland. Tasty savory dishes, followed by tea, cakes and scones are traditionally served from late afternoon to early evening.

Britain is known as a nation of tea lovers. In fact, we’re said to consume over 62 billion cups of tea a year. Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling are major types of black tea and ideal for pairing with afternoon tea. Earl Grey and English Breakfast are two of the most popular black tea blends and firm favourites.

The record for the biggest scone ever baked is held by New Zealander Shaun McCarthy in August 2010. It weighed in at 119.45 kg and measured 117 cm in diameter!

The Victoria Sponge cake, or Victoria Sandwich, was very popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. Known for having a very sweet tooth, Queen Victoria enjoyed many tea parties during her reign, and this delicious sponge cake was said to be one of her favourites.

At one time it was customary to pour milk into a tea cup first, mainly to cool the tea in order to prevent poor quality cups from cracking when adding hot water. Nowadays milk first or last is down to personal preference and taste.

Afternoon tea: a social event for all occasions

A social event for all occasions, afternoon tea is an enjoyable way to celebrate a birthday, a christening or an anniversary. Although why wait for a special occasion when you can get together with friends and family to indulge in a delightful afternoon treat anytime.

With its splendid and ornate period features, the 16th century Billesley Manor Hotel near Stratford-upon- Avon is the perfect setting to savour a delicious traditional afternoon tea.

At the Billesley Manor Hotel, enjoy great company and conversation over a decadent three-tiered serving of delicate finger sandwiches with traditional fillings, mouthwatering cakes and scrumptious homemade scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, together with the finest tea. Afterwards, take a walk around the hotel’s pretty 100-year- old topiary garden.