Saturday, 15 January 2011

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon Tea
Taken from the above book

Afternoon tea is one of a pair of meals (the other being high tea), both of which are essentially British and which, although alike in having tea as the beverage served, stand in high contrast to each other in other respects.
Mrs Beeton expressed  succinctly the material difference when she remarked that "There is Tea and Tea" and went on to say that ' A "High Tea" is where meat takes a more prominent part and signifies really, what is a tea-dinner.....The afternoon tea signifies little more than  tea and bread and butter, and a few elegant trifles in the way of cake and fruit'
Although the custom of taking a cup of tea, at least occasionally, at a suitable time in the afternoon may have been adopted by some ladies in the late 17th century , it seems clear that neither afternoon tea nor high tea, the meals, started to become established until late in the 18th or early in the 19th centuries. Since almost all authors rely on the indefatigable Ukers, who had scoured available literary and artistic sources for indications on this point, he must be allowed here to speak for himself:

Dr. Alexander Carlyle wrote in his autobiography of the fashionable mode of living at Harrogate in 1763 that, "The ladies gave afternoon tea and coffee in their turn. 'For the custom of afternoon tea as a distinct and definite function, however, the world is indebted to Anna, wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford, 1788-1801In her day people ate prodigious breakfasts. Luncheon was a sort of picnic, with no servants in attendance. There was no other meal until eight o'clock dinner, after which tea was served in the drawing-room. The Duchess of Bedford struck out a new line; she had tea and cakes served at five o'clock, because, to quote herself, she had a sinking feeling'.
Fanny Kemble, the actress, in her Later Life, records that she first became aquainted with afternoon tea in 1842 at Belvoir Castle, seat of the Dukes of Rutland. She added that she did not believe the now universally-honoured custom dated back any further than that.

In the 20th century afternoon tea kept to a formula:
tea (loose leafed and in a pot)with milk and sugar, or perhaps lemon if China tea is served; dainty small sandwiches (cucumber very thinly sliced, is a favoured filling); scones with butter and jam (optional); some form of little cakes or slices of a large cake; biscuits (optional); and a serviette or napkin to complete the picture. The effect is charming and may be achieved by a hostess (or host) with far less expenditure of effort and money than a full meal, or even a high tea, would require.
A variant of afternoon tea is the Devon cream tea, which towards the end of the 20th century was advancing relentlessly across all the other counties of England, and indeed appearing in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, sometimes described as just 'cream tea'. This calls for scones, clotted cream, and jam.

As Harrogate was mentioned in this writing, you might like to visit my post showing the famous tea rooms there


Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Very interesting, and that set of books is wonderful. As a follow up I would love to know your method for making loose leaf tea.

Martha said...

Except in America the delicate tea taken in posh spots is most usually called "high tea" because I think that Americans think "high" is classier than afternoon because there is High Society, High Class, etc. I cringe when I see the words "high tea" used to describe afternoon tea but it more often used than not!

elizabeth said...

Great information and, so far as I can tell, totally accurate.
Yes, a great way to entertain without going to great expense. (Wine etc costs a lot!)
I like all food but breakfast and tea have their particular pleasures.
Yes, to cucumber sandwiches
and clotted cream on scones
and maybe drop scones (Scottish I think)
We had Australians to tea the other day and I served the old cucumber sandwiches and everyone was really happy. And homemade oatmeal and walnut cookies and fairy cakes....
Egg and cress sandwiches are good too
and maybe some "Gentleman's Relish" on thin toast.
One year we did a virtual blog teaparty and invited our blog chums to visit..... should we do it again for Valentine's Day?
Freezing--well, below freezing --
All best wishes to you and Alan.

Willow said...

Very interesting reading! I was surprised that 'tea' was as recent an addition to British life as Carlyle states.

Elizabethd said...

Lovely lovely afternoon tea! And so good for that 'sinking feeling'.
My grandmother always had one of those mahogany three layer stands, upon which wonderful delicacies were arrayed.

Susan said...

I hope to partake of afternoon tea or even high tea someday, because one day I will visit your wonderful country.

Susan said...

This was interesting, Barbara. I never knew what "High Tea" meant and just pictured Tea as tea with a sweet of some sort.

Balisha said...

Hooray for the Duchess of Bedford. I too, would get that "sinking feeling" if I had to wait until 8 pm.
We had a restaurant that served afternoon tea with all the things you mentioned on their menu. When we first came to the restaurant, there was a room full of beautiful hats. We each had to choose one and wear it while having tea. The hostess explained the English custom of tea as they served the food. It was such fun. Balisha

Deanna said...

I enjoyed reading this post.

Thank you for sharing.
You are one classy lady!

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

I liked that! Thank you! I would love to go to an afternoon tea!

Needled Mom said...

Scones are just not scones without the clotted cream and freshly brewed tea.

Reflection Through The Seasons said...

What an interesting post Barbara. I think afternoon tea is a great tradition..... a delight to your taste buds as well as a delight to your eyes too. Imagine... a table set with a pretty embroidered table cloth, a posy bowl of flowers, china cups and saucers, a pot of good tea, a selection of sandwiches on thinly cut bread, scones with cream and jam and a china tiered cake stand loaded with pretty cakes and pastries. Very tempting! Yes, please. Marion

Sara said...

You have a treasure there in this set of books! A very interesting, and instructive, post. Reading Marion's comment makes me wish that the tea she describes would appear before me like magic this afternoon....

The part about high tea including meat explains something I noticed in the movie "Shirley Valentine," where what I would call supper or dinner was called "tea." The husband comes in asking if his tea is ready. It isn't yet. He remarks, "but I always have my tea at 6:00." Since it is Thursday, he's expecting steak, but Shirley serves him chips and eggs instead because she fed the steak to the neighbor's dog. He is not happy, to say the least!

Linda J. said...

This is a great post! My mission is to correct American tea rooms on the difference between afternoon tea and high tea. We stayed with an English family in 1995. Our hostess served her children "tea" at 6:00 then dinner later to her husband and her guests.

Aqeela said...

I love tea, and everything that goes with it. I especially like to pour tea from a teapot. I love the tradition of having dainty sandwiches and small cakes with it, i do wish more people would follow in the footsteps of those before us and have an afternoon tea. Oh i just love the Englishness of it all!
Aqeela xx

Annie said...

This is so interesting, Barbara. As you might know, High Tea at teashops are quite the thing in the U.S. But, here the High Tea is more like what is described as afternoon tea. The closest we get to meat is a bit of tuna or salmon. Oh well. Whatever is served up, it is so fun and we feel very elegant. My daughter and I used to go for high teas regularly when she was in high school. It was a wonderful time for just the two of us.

Kate said...

how very ladylike - to take afternoon tea! My mum and I used to go to Simpkins and James for afternoon tea - it was wonderful!

I went to the funeral of an elderly friend yesterday.... my daughter and I drove to Sussex for the celebration of Joan's life and it was a lovely event - followed by afternoon tea at the local manor. A very special occasion and some very lovely memories!

Bernideen said...

I enjoyed this so much - and read all the comments. They are right about many American Tea Rooms using the wrong term "high tea" for
Afternoon Tea. They usually correct it after a few years and change it on their menus.