Hotels, supermarkets, and bakeries across Britain are rejoicing in the renewed interest in the tradition of afternoon tea, ahead of the planned celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday. Thanks to an influx of period drama in the past few years, and Downton Abbey in particular, the younger generation is now more accepting of the idea of spending an hour or two sipping tea and indulging in sandwiches, scones, and cakes. So next time you are being served endless tea and tiered silver trays of goodies, surprise your fellow diners with these top 10 facts.
1. Afternoon tea is way older than the Queen: It is 176!
Afternoon tea as a concept was developed by the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Stanhope, who complained of that sagging feeling in the afternoon. A few hours after lunch and with dinner not being served until 8pm or 9pm, the Duchess started requesting some tea, bread and butter in the afternoon. The trend started going viral (well, as viral as it got in those pre-internet days) among the ladies of upper class society, who perhaps took it a bit too far with their love of fashion and attention to details.
2. Queen Victoria popularised the trend
Afternoon tea was enjoyed in closed circles in England, but when Queen Victoria engaged in the ceremony, it turned into a formal occasion on a larger scale. The occasion was later referred to as a ‘tea reception’, where hundreds would arrive to reception rooms and leave them without notice, all in the name of enjoying a good cup of tea.
3. First there was low tea, then came the high tea
While the ladies of England enjoyed their tea on low tables, which became today’s coffee tables, as they gathered in drawing rooms on comfortable arms chairs and sofas, the general working class could only afford their tea with their main supper meals which are served on high tables. Hence afternoon tea was considered a low tea; a luxury consumed while comfortably laying down. Nowadays, nevertheless, some hotels use the high tea expression to promote a luxurious offering, given the connotation of the word.
4. The first hotel to offer afternoon tea
In 1865, The Langham in London started offering afternoon tea to its clients, becoming the first hotel in the English capital to honor this tradition. The hotel still serves one of the finest afternoon tea experiences in London, thanks to award-winning pastry chef Cherish Finden.
5. The most expensive afternoon tea in the UK was priced at £550 per couple!
Clivedon House, the address for under-the-radar private luxury, once designed an afternoon tea menu with a price tag of £550 per couple. The lavish menu included Beluga Caviar, and the rare Da Hong Poa tea. But if paying this amount of money would cause you nightmares at night, you would sleep better knowing that half the proceeds went to charity.
6. … And what is Da Hong Pao tea?
The world’s most expensive brew. The tea, which translates from Mandarin into Big Red Robe, originates from China, where the legend goes that it helped cure the mother of Ming dynasty emperor. Some reported prices for this tea were as legendary as the story, but in reality it can cost as much as £2000 per kilogram.
7. If you can’t enjoy an afternoon tea, at least have a cream tea!
The much simpler version of an afternoon tea is the cream tea. Instead of all the sandwiches, pastries, cakes and jams, you get a simple pot of tea, along with scones, clotted cream and jam. Now that is enough to pick you up, without taking a few hours out of your day or, more disastrously, ruining your appetite for dinner.
8. Scones or ‘skons’?
The pastries that are part of any afternoon tea, or cream tea for that matter, were not made until the 20th century, making them a novel addition. More importantly, we most frequently mispronounce them. They should be pronounced as ‘skons’, without the long “o”.
9. Afternoon tea fever meets Hello Kitty!
This summer, lovers of Japan’s Hello Kitty will get the chance to be pampered with a themed afternoon tea in the Cutter & Squidge bakery in Soho. There are few details available, other than it should cost you £40, but we will keep you in the loop as soon as we hear.
10. The most exotic place to enjoy afternoon tea
What could be a better place to savor tea, scones, history and arts? Nothing beats the British Museum! Yes, you can enjoy your afternoon tea there between 3pm and 5pm. You will sit in the Great Court Restaurant under the famous glass roof, and enjoy the delicacies as they soak in arts! Then there is of course the world-famous Ritz hotel, where afternoon tea starts at £52 per person.