Drink Tea and Eat Cake

It is believed that credit for the custom of the Afternoon Tea goes to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. The usual habit of serving dinner as late as 9pm left the Duchess hungry in the late afternoon. To stave off the hunger she would order tea, bread and butter and cakes to be served in her room. This was thought to be an excellent idea and the habit caught on and the afternoon tea was born.

Following on from this custom came the 'At Home' essentially an extension of the afternoon tea which involved into inviting relatives and friends round for tea and sometimes entertainment - though more often just simple conversation and idle gossip . On every day at least one was held somewhere. The hostess remained home all day to receive guests, serve tea, cakes, sandwiches and other niceties and protocol demanded on receiving an 'At Home' notice that unless regrets were sent, invitees must attend.

Afternoon Tea Today

The tradition of 'At Home' has long died out, but the serving of Afternoon Tea continues Many leading hotels serve Afternoon Tea from about 3 pm until 5 as well as cafes and tea shops. One well-known tea room, Bettys in Yorkshire, has a global reputation for serving the quintessential meal.

Serving Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea traditionally starts with savory finger - sized smoked salmon, cucumber, or egg and mustard cress sandwiches - followed by scones with jam and cream (clotted cream in Devon), and finally a selection of cakes. Variations through Britain may include the serving of English Muffins , thinly sliced, hot buttered toast, crumpets, and in Scotland even a hot main course dish; bacon and eggs or a steak pie as favorites. Tea is traditionally served from heavy, ornate, silver teapots into delicate bone china cups. Milk or lemon served with the tea is still a personal preference. The sandwiches, the scones and the cakes should arrive at table on tired cake stands.

By Elaine Lemm