A Brief History of Afternoon Tea

August 7, 2017
The RCH Afternoon Tea

Tucking into a dainty pastry bite or slathering a freshly backed scone still warm from the oven with lashings of butter and scarlet strawberry jam has become synonymous with the most indulgent of English traditions – Afternoon Tea.

As British as cricket or a tall glass of Pimms brimming with cucumber and mint, this decadent afternoon ritual, which also involves a delicate assortment of sandwiches and fine china tea cups, is now celebrated across the country as the ultimate elegant treat.

So how did this most tasty tradition begin?

Surprisingly we need only wind back to clock to the 1840’s and zoom in on the utterings of a London socialite called Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford and close friend of Queen Victoria, who decided she needed a nibble to keep her going between luncheon and dinner.

She requested that a tray of tea, with bread and butter and a slice of cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon.

And it was at this moment, as The Duchess took a lady-like bite of a soft butter sandwich that the concept of Afternoon Tea was born.

Perhaps feeling slight lonely with her solo afternoon snacking, the well-connected Duchess started to invite friends to join her for a tasty bite – and the ritual of socialising over sandwiches caught on.

As a result, taking Afternoon Tea in the 1880’s became a popular social event for the upper classes, with ladies changing into long gowns, gloves and hats to enjoy the occasion.

And the simple bread and butter snack enjoyed by The Duchess was replaced with a more indulgent range of sandwiches and pastries – usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.

From here the taking of Afternoon Tea gradually spread from the home into wider society and suddenly everyone was doing it.

Tea Rooms and Tea Gardens sprang up all over the country and then music was added to the mix and by the 1900’s Tea Dances were all the rage.

The tea rationing that came with the Two World Wars significantly dampened the Afternoon Tea atmosphere but despite the depression, the cucumber sandwich tradition survived.

Today this quintessentially English tradition is flourishing, and has become synonymous with decadence and opulence and is often enjoyed by guests staying at five star hotels, including here at The RCH.

To see our full Afternoon Tea menu click HERE.

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