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Traditional English Afternoon Tea.

Updated on January 21, 2016

An Afternoon Treat.

The English tradition of Afternoon Tea started in the 19th Century. It became popular among the middle and upper classes as a light meal served around 4pm that would help fill the gap between lunch and dinner, which was served around 8pm. Afternoon tea should not be confused with high tea, which was the main meal of day served around 5pm in working class families. High tea would be the typical 'meat and two veg' hot meal. Many people in working class areas still refer to the main evening meal as 'tea'.

As Afternoon Tea became more popular, it was often used as a social event, with the Ladies of the House inviting friends to join them. This meal would be far less formal than a dinner party and would usually be served in the drawing room, rather than the dining room. In the summer, it may be served in the garden. The tea was the main offering at these events but the beverage was always served with small and dainty food that would stave off hunger pangs but not ruin the appetite for dinner.

The tea would be prepared using loose tea (rather than teabags). Earl Grey was popular as it has a light refreshing taste. The tea would be prepared in the best silver teapot by one of the housemaids and delivered hot to the drawing room. The Lady of the House would serve her guests. The best china tea service would be used and a table would be attractively set for the food. It was an event that allowed one to show off the best silver and china. Elegance was the order of the day.

Small, dainty sandwiches would be served. These would usually be cut into small traingles, with the crusts cut off. This made them easier to eat, especially as the ladies usually wore their gloves throughout. The sandwiches would contain such things as smoked salmon, egg and cress, pressed tongue or chicken. Often other small savouries would be offered such as cheese straws or pastries with an anchovy filling.

Small cakes would be displayed on a cake stand and offered to the guests after the sandwiches. Often a 'cream tea' would be served. This consists of serving tea with freshly baked fruit scones, covered with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

As this was very much a social event, conversation was valued as a good social skill. The Afternoon Tea would last about an hour and a half, then the guests would take their leave. It was considered very impolite to overstay one's welcome.

The tradition of Afternoon Tea still lives on albeit in a modified form. Today most people work but even here there is an afternoon tea break with a small snack, biscuits or a cake. The full afternoon tea experience is still available in hotels for those who have the leisure time to enjoy it.


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