The History of Afternoon Tea
When it comes to looking at the history of afternoon tea, it might help to understand that in the early nineteenth century, people only ate 2 meals a day. They ate breakfast before going out for the day and dinner around 8 pm when they returned from their day. Often times they’d feel that mid-afternoon slump we’re so familiar with now.
Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, began retiring to her room and requesting a pot of tea and a sandwich or treat to ease her hunger and get her through until dinner. She liked this afternoon tradition so much, she started inviting friends to join her. It wasn’t long before the tradition of “afternoon tea” caught on.
Many London hostesses, wanting to be like the Duchess, started inviting friends over as well. Soon their drawing rooms were filled with ladies enjoying tea and sandwiches while catching up on the local gossip. Afterwards, they’d walk out to Hyde Park for their traditional afternoon “walk”, which was more like a parade of ladies.
Queen Victoria though took the traditional afternoon tea to a new level by offering tea receptions. She held daily gatherings from 4-7 pm and as many as two hundred people stopped by. A variety of tea sandwiches, scones, and pastries were served. Visitors were free to drop by at their leisure.
Nowadays, afternoon tea is a little more relaxed and enjoyed by people in all walks of life. In England, afternoon tea houses are very common and you may find a business lunch at one table and construction workers on a lunch break at another.
Most American tea houses follow the tradition set by Duchess Anna and Queen Victoria, serving tea with fine china and making it an “event” instead of lunch.
Either way, afternoon tea is a charming tradition that can be almost meditative. The brewing of the tea, the tiny sandwiches, and the scones with Devonshire cream all beg you to take your time and enjoy.