Many people have questioned what the history of afternoon tea is. How and when did this tradition begin? What was served? Was it in the Victorian Era?
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I am fascinated by how Afternoon Tea was started. I had a tea party business back in 2005. My friend Helen and I used to have between 8-40 women come for tea to have private parties. Mostly the Red Hat Society, but some families would come to have a birthday. We even had a few weddings and fundraisers.
That is why I am thrilled to share a bit more about this fun tradition with you! I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.
During lunch, I would tell the story of how afternoon tea was started. It goes something like this.
What Is The History Of Afternoon Tea?
The very first-time Afternoon Tea was used was back in 1804.
While drinking tea as a fashionable event is credited to Catharine of Braganza, the actual taking of tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event some time in the late 1830s and early 1840s.
Jane Austen hints at afternoon tea as early as 1804 in an unfinished novel. It is said that the afternoon tea tradition was established by Anna, Duchess of Bedford.
Tea consumption increased dramatically during the early nineteenth century and it is around this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have 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 solution for the Duchess was a pot of tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.
Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey, and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking the fields.”
Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move into the drawing-room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
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What is Afternoon Tea?
Afternoon Tea is a tea-related ritual, introduced in Britain in the early 1840s. It evolved as a mini meal to stem the hunger and anticipation of an evening meal at 8 pm.
Afternoon Tea is a meal composed of sandwiches (usually cut into ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries, and mini cakes. Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.
Afternoon Tea Fun Facts
If you enjoy tea parties, here are a few more fun facts about this English tradition.
- Afternoon tea used to be based on class. For example, working-class laborers would usually only be able to nibble on just one baked good, while upper-class people enjoyed various sandwiches, cakes, and pastries.
- Many high-class hotels and restaurants in England have broken with tradition and created themed Afternoon Tea parties.
- On record, one of the most expensive afternoon teas in Britain was hosted at the Cliveden hotel in Berkshire and the meal was £550 per couple.
- High tea and afternoon tea are not the same things. High tea was the working-class man’s main meal of the day (much like lunch or dinner). High tea refers to the height of the table – the main meal being eaten at a high table.
- Afternoon tea used to be served between 2-5 p.m.
If you enjoyed the History of Afternoon tea, I hope you get to experience some of these Tea Tips:
That is a fascinating history indeed, and your tea party business sounds like it was a lot of fun. I wish something like that existed around here because it sounds like a perfect setting for my younger stepdaughter who loves all things girly, extravagant, and quirky.
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It was fun, I closed down a few years ago, but still enjoy talking about it.
Thanks for the history! My grandmother is British and still has her afternoon tea (although, she also drinks it throughout the day too 😉 ).
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How wonderful, I bet she has lots of great stories.
Sylver Blaque says
Wow, tea to lift a “sinking feeling”…I can see that. Yes, I think in this case history should definitely repeat itself!
I love afternoon tea. My daughter and I do it at least once a week (but usually more). It is a special thing to take a break in the middle of the afternoon, drink tea and eat something yummy, and talk. A tea party business sounds like a fun thing to do.
I didn't know the history behind it, though. Very interesting.
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This is something that I have always wanted to do– have a proper tea someday. I cannot imagine that many of my family would be interested though….maybe when they are older– after these crazy teenage years!
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Alexis Grace says
I love tea!!! I would love t recapture this tradition (even if only once a month!)…
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hollow tree ventures says
Very interesting! The closest I've come to having afternoon tea was on the floor of my daughter's bedroom. It was heavily attended by dolls and teddy bears. Real tea sounds like it would be nice!
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[email protected] says
I've never had an afternoon tea but I do love scones! I think I will plan a girls tea party for this spring. That would be delightful!
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Thank you for the history lesson! I'd love to do afternoon tea sometime! It would be nice to feel fancy 🙂
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lorna sadorra says
i enjoyed reading your blog about Teas because I’m a tea lover( Matcha & green tea & Ginger lemon ).
i have a ministry among women in our church and we use tea’s as a come on! i have met many other women through this ministry.
by the way I did not received from my email when I subscribe -the Teacup Story printable…can you send it so I can include it in my Tea display at home?
Thank you so much and i pray for you & your tea ministry as well.
Helene Hunt says
Thanks Lorna for sharing the history of the tradition of tea and the very uplifting story of the teacup. I will certainly share it at our next Piecemakers day as the ‘Food for Thought’ segment.
Piecemakers is our local group of patchworking ladies that meet monthly in our church hall in Moe, (a country town near Melbourne) to sew quilts which we then gift as love quilts to kids in Foster care in Melbourne, Australia.
God bless, Helene
Kaylene Hudgins says
Awesome history about Afternoon Tea parties.
I started this with one of my granddaughters when she was 4 & now at 9 yrs she insists on a tea party when we are together. Fun Time!
Debbie Dsutlief says
Loved reading the history of an afternoon tea party. Can you send me a recipe for scones that I can serve with a delicious blueberry jam I have. I am giving a tea party for 8 people in an old farm house.