Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 3.30 pm and 5 pm. Observance of the custom originated amongst the wealthy social classes in England in the 1840s. Her Grace Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford, is widely credited as transforming afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal whilst visiting Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. By the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea developed to its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes. It had become ubiquitous, even in the isolated village in the fictionalised memoir Lark Rise to Candleford, where a cottager lays out what she calls a "visitor's tea" for their landlady: "the table was laid… there were the best tea things with a fat pink rose on the side of each cup; hearts of lettuce, thin bread and butter, and the crisp little cakes that had been baked in readiness that morning."
For the more privileged, afternoon tea was accompanied by delicate savouries (customarily cucumber sandwiches or egg and cress sandwiches), bread and butter, possibly scones (with clotted cream and jam, as for cream tea), and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg cake or Victoria sponge). The sandwiches usually have the crusts removed, and are cut into small segments, either as triangles or fingers (also known as tea sandwiches). Biscuits are not usually served.
Nowadays, a formal afternoon tea is more of a special occasion, taken as a treat in a hotel. The food is often served on a tiered stand; there may be no sandwiches, but bread or scones with butter or margarine and optional jam or other spread, or toast, muffins or crumpets. Afternoon tea as a treat may be supplemented with a glass of Champagne or a similar alcoholic drink. Or maybe even a gin and tonic...
The custom of taking afternoon tea with bread or pastry was also common in some continental European areas long before the emergence of the practice in England, though such customs are not widely known in English-speaking countries. For example, Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière wrote in 1804 of afternoon tea in Switzerland.
Vers les cinq heures du soir, la maîtresse de la maison fait elle-même, au milieu du salon, du thé très-fort, qu’adoucissent à peine quelques gouttes d’une crème onctueuse ; de larges tartines de pain beurré l’accompagnent. Tel est le Thé suisse dans toute sa simplicité. Mais, dans la plupart des maisons opulentes, on y ajoute du café, des pâtisseries légères de toute espèce, et dont plusieurs sont même inconnues à Paris, des fruits confits ou glacés, des macarons, des biscuits, du nougat, et même jusqu’à des glaces.
Towards five o'clock in the evening, the mistress of the house, in the midst of the sitting-room, makes tea herself, very strong and barely sweetened with a few drops of rich cream; generous slices of buttered bread accompany it. Such is the Swiss Tea in all its simplicity. In most opulent houses, however, coffee and light pastries of all kinds are added, many of which are unknown in Paris, preserved or candied fruits, macaroons, biscuits, nougat, and even ice cream.
Whatever the origins of afternoon tea, we think it a deliciously decadent way to spend an afternoon. Why not join come and join us soon, click HERE for more information...