The History And Tradition Of Afternoon Tea

The History and Tradition of Afternoon Tea

afternoon tea 2

Afternoon Tea Had an Actual Purpose

The tradition of afternoon tea started in the early 19th Century when the wealthy set felt they needed a ‘pick-me-up’ in the afternoon. This is not surprising because they typically ate just 2 meals a day; breakfast and dinner, so the skipping of that 3rd meal led to a mid afternoon slump hence the creation of afternoon tea. Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a ‘low’ or ‘afternoon’ tea around four o’clock. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial ‘high’ tea later in the day, at five or six o’clock, in place of a late dinner. The ‘high’ and ‘low’ names were given for the height of the tables used at each tea.

Weather permitting tea would be served in the garden. Once the typical grey skies loomed (we are talking about England here), the tea service would then be served indoors in the Drawing Room. The drawing room a room in the house where one could ‘withdraw’ to for privacy with their guests.

The History and Tradition of Afternoon Tea

The selection of food ranged from savory to sweet. Starting, of course, with a pot of tea. Traditional Black English tea, Darjeeling (an aromatic floral tea from India) or Earl Grey (a blend of black teas scented with oil of bergamot) were typically served. The savory portion consists of a selection of finger sandwiches, with dainty servings of each filling, of either cucumber, salmon, ham or egg salad and always with the crusts removed. The sweet selection came in the way of scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and a selection of small cakes and pastries all beautifully presented on a tiered cake stand that was the centerpiece of the table.

The appreciation of this tradition has grown immeasurably and a modern day revival can be enjoyed the world over with many upscale hotels and restaurants having adapted their own style by adding champagne to the menu.

Clotted Cream Recipe

The History and Tradition of Afternoon Tea


(yields 16 ounces)

  • 1-16 ounce container pasteurized heavy cream


  1. Place a large heatproof bowl over a large saucepan of water (make sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Add the cream to the bowl and bring the water to a simmer.
  3. Using a candy thermometer, bring the temperature of the cream to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) and maintain that temperature for 1 hour.
  4. After 1 hour, turn off the heat and remove the bowl from the boiler.
  5. Allow to cool, then wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8-12 hours.
  6. Skim the clotted cream off the top and put into a container with a lid.
  7. Serve on a warm scone with strawberry jam.

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  1. My cousin in England sent me a postcard with the recipe for clotted cream on it, many years ago. It’s been one of the many things I want to make for years and I’ve still not done it! Maybe I will just give myself a deadline and do it very soon, as it looks fabulous!


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