The traditional afternoon tea has had a bit of a revival of late, with tea rooms opening up across the country and many a high street cafe turning their hand towards afternoon tea it seems to be derigueur nowadays, but how did the humble afternoon tea begin, and why has it's currently revival taken off so well?
The Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840, she complained of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon, at the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day - breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon, this soon became a habit of the duchess who began to invite friends to join her during her 'afternoon tea'.
Taking afternoon tea soon caught on with other social hostesses quickly picking up on the idea, before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon. However it was only when Queen Victoria engaged in the afternoon Tea ritual that it became a formal occasion on a larger scale, known as ‘tea receptions'.
Traditional Victorian afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and preserves with cakes and pastries. Tea grown in India or Ceylon is poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.
Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.
Nowadays the modern take on afternoon tea still stays true to it's origins with most afternoon tea's staying closest to the Victorian tradition, with often a choice of black teas such as early grey, darjeeling and assam. Although you will find some places adding their own blends of teas and a variety of non-traditional cakes and pastries also, as well as those serving a cream tea as an afternoon tea (a cream tea is traditionally scones served with clotted cream and preserves with a pot of tea).
The revival of the afternoon tea seems to have sprung up just as the cupcake has taken a stronghold, as coffee shops and patisserie's serving cupcakes have sprung up across the country it would seem that the afternoon tea has shortly followed thereafter. That said traditional afternoon tea's have long been at the forefront in some of Britain's well loved tea rooms, hotels and restaurants, from Fortnum & Mason to Claridges, it's revival to more modern venues and new tea rooms though has certainly been more recent.
The afternoon tea is seen by many as a special treat more so than an afternoon essential as it's origins were, maybe this is why it's taken off so well with many taking on an afternoon tea for a special occasion.
As the afternoon tea has taken across the country to quaint new tea rooms and department store cafes it's certainly welcome, one no longer has to traipse across the country to find a spot of afternoon tea and it's certainly a delectable adventure seeing the little quirks that each venue has taken on for their own afternoon tea, I can only hope that it's current revival isn't merely a trend that would result in afternoon tea switching for the current taste, now that would be a devastating loss.
Images: Flickr Commons.