The History of Afternoon Tea And Why You Should Try It

The history of Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is a quintessential British custom that began as an afternoon meal habit of the aristocracy in the 19th century. It was later adopted by ordinary households.

While drinking tea has been part of the culture of most Asian countries dating back to ancient times, it was the British who began the tradition of Afternoon Tea

The history of Afternoon Tea
My Afternoon Tea break today consists of Earl Grey Tea, Banana Cake, Digestive Biscuits

The history of Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is quite a lifestyle, not just merely "drinking tea" unceremoniously. It is part of the habit of the social set in Britain. And there's a specific ritual or etiquette that accompanies afternoon tea.

The history of Afternoon Tea
My Afternoon Tea break today

For instance, it should not be served with large meals, afternoon tea only consists of small bites often called "tea food" (thin sandwiches slices, shortcake slices, biscuits, cookies, and scones with cream, etcetera), and must be served between 4PM and 6PM.

History of Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea in British society began in 1850 when Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who served as one of the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, felt "a sinking feeling during the late afternoon".

Twinings Chamomile tea
Chamomile Tea. I usually take this in the evening after dinner

Twinings Chamomile tea

Since there was a huge gap between lunch (1pm) and dinner (8PM), the Duchess of Bedford usually felt hungry around 4:00 in the afternoon. So the Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon before 5:00. 

Later, the Duchess's afternoon tea became a habit and she began inviting friends to join her, including Queen Victoria. The habit eventually rolled into a social event in the aristocracy and Queen Victoria began organizing her own Afternoon Tea at her royal residences between 4Pm to 6PM.

They would change into long gowns, gloves, and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room of the palaces.

Food served during Afternoon Tea

Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches, such as thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches, and scones served with clotted cream and preserves. Cakes and pastries are also served. 

The British royal family during the Victorian era would prefer their Tea grown in India or Sri Lanka. And preferred freshly brewed tea leaves poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.

They would change into long gowns, gloves, and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room or home gardens.

They also have a high tea, served after 6PM and before 8PM, it is a type of meal setup that's not a proper dinner but just consists of dessert and light meals. 

The usual Afternoon Tea setup

Today in most British households, afternoon tea is likely to be just a biscuit or small cake and a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag.

Queen Elizabeth II during her long reign began a tradition of organizing an Afternoon Tea twice a year in the gardens of Buckingham Palace to recognize individuals who have rendered impressive services to the nation.

The late British Queen was also known to have regular afternoon tea breaks wherever she went, whether she was on an official trip or just relaxing at one of her royal residences.

She reportedly preferred the Earl Grey Tea from Twinings because of its calming effect and relaxing aroma. Twinings also held a Royal Warrant from her during her reign. 

Read a related story about The Queen's Meal here.

The palace chef would serve the Queen thin slices of cucumber sandwiches and her favorite Chocolate Biscuit Cake during her afternoon tea breaks.

The usual Afternoon Tea setup

So while the rest of us never take tea time seriously, others may even dismiss it as nonsense, in the British royal family it's an enduring royal tradition. 

The late Queen would take her afternoon tea at 5:00 in the afternoon and this is where she also indulged in sweets. Her favorite Chocolate Biscuit Cake or Chocolate Perfection Pie would be usually served at this hour, often accompanied by other tea food, either scones or sandwiches.

We can have our Afternoon Tea too

Afternoon Tea is not only for the upper class or for the aristocracy, we, ordinary citizens can have it too. Always set a schedule to have an afternoon tea break around 4:00PM.

Prepare a cup of hot tea paired with some small bites of finger food such as donuts, biscuit selections, cookies, sandwiches, or any available dessert. 

The history of Afternoon Tea
My Twining Tea collection 😂

If you are working, you may take a break at 4PM or at 5PM and have your afternoon tea in the workplace. Prepare a cup of hot tea and have some sandwiches or cookies or biscuits.

You may choose any tea selection: Earl Grey, Green tea, white or black tea, or any variant. The high-quality brands of tea I tried are Twinings, English Teashop, and Celestial.

The history of Afternoon Tea

Benefits of taking Afternoon Tea

Drinking tea is always beneficial. Apart from its relaxing aroma, tea is loaded with healthy antioxidants that can effectively fight free radicals in our system. Research studies show that drinking tea may protect us from chronic illnesses. 

Tea also has a small amount of caffeine compared to coffee, so it won't irritate our nerves. If you do not like the bitter taste of tea, you can always add a small amount of milk or honey to enhance the taste.

The history of Afternoon Tea

It helps to pick up energy. Personally, I always have my afternoon tea at 4:30 in the afternoon because it's when I am super tired from writing and need to boost my energy to continue the momentum. A cup of hot tea regains my enthusiasm and fills up my energy tank.

Usually, I will only have pieces of biscuits to go with my tea, not the usual sandwiches or scones. I always chose digestive biscuits because it satisfies my hunger without bloating my stomach. 

I love Twinings tea, I tried most of its variants but right now, I am sticking with Earl Grey and Green Tea. These tea variants help boost my energy and relaxed my mood. 

I love the citrusy aroma of Earl Grey Tea. While Green Tea with Jasmine has a floral aroma that uplifts my mood, especially during busy days.

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