Afternoon tea, that very British tradition, where a fondness for tea, cake and enjoyable conversation comes together for an hour of relaxation with family and friends.“If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you. Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! I am glad I was not born before tea”. William Gladstone, British Prime Minister.
The practice of having afternoon tea wasn’t established until about 1840, a time when lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner was served much later, around eight or 9 o’clock.
The story began when Anna Maria, the seventeenth duchess of Bedford (1783 to 1857) was feeling rather hungry late one afternoon, while on her summer holiday. She asked her maid to bring tea and a tray of bread-and-butter sandwiches to her room. Anna Maria began to enjoy “taking of tea” so much that she started inviting her friends to join her for this new social event, one that soon expanded to include an array of assorted fruit bread and pastries.
Soon after, afternoon tea, as we know it was born, and the trend began, hostesses quickly picked up the practice, and elegant tea parties became fashionable social events rather than just a meal. Ladies did not go to afternoon tea to eat but to meet friends, catch up on gossip, scandal and generally be seen in the right places among the right people, and in passing, to drink tea and sample a small sandwich and a slice of cake.
In a few decades the custom was well established. During the 1880’s, upper class women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats and take tea, which was usually served between four and five o’clock.
Eventually afternoon tea would become so popular tearooms began opening for the general public and society had decided that afternoon tea was a relaxing hour well spent.