Afternoon tea is back in fashion and hotels across London regularly have queues running down the street for afternoon tea. With prices ranging from £15 to as much as£ 80 at the Ritz Carlton, afternoon tea is not cheap. But then again, it never was intended for the working classes! So where did the tradition of afternoon tea first come from, and what does it mean? We have the 7th Duchess of Bedford to thank for creating the tradition of afternoon tea.
In the early nineteenth century tea was very popular and tea consumption in the UK was increasing dramatically, much like today tea was being discovered as not only a thirst quencher but as a way to get through the afternoon and avoid that sinking feeling mid-afternoon.
The Duchess of Bedford, Anna, is said to have complained of “having that sinking feeling” during the late afternoon. At that stage, in the early nineteenthcentury, it was then normal for people to have only two meals a day, breakfast and dinner in the evening. The Duchess decided a good solution was to have a pot of black tea with milk and a light snack late afternoon. She used to have afternoon tea privately in her boudoir, but soon friends were invited to join her in her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey for tea. This summer practice proved so popular that when she returned to London in the autumn, she continued to invite friends, sending them cards asking them to join her for “tea and a walking the fields.” Other social hostesses in London quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing rooms across the country. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a ‘low’ or ‘afternoon’ tea around four o’clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. 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 names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.
And that is the story of how afternoon tea came into fashion and how it has shaped over 200 years of English tradition. So if you one of an estimated 2 billion people watching the Royal wedding, between Prince William and Kate Middleton on the 29 April 2011, to celebrate why not partake in a very British tradition, celebrate withafternoon tea or high tea (it’s a special occasion). To make it even more special why not treat yourself with a Sikkim Temi from India, a colonial gem and tea fit for a king and queen.
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