*This article was updated on 29/06/2023*
Afternoon tea - how British can you get?!
It’s just part of our culture.
Cafes, restaurants, homes, and gardens, it goes on everywhere and at any time.
Summer, winter, autumn, on holiday, on shopping trips, at weekends or on a rainy Monday, we’ll never say no to the delights of tea in the afternoon!
So where did this tradition of afternoon tea come from and what’s the cream tea - a speciality of Devon and Cornwall - all about?
Firstly, what’s the difference between afternoon tea and cream tea?
Traditionally afternoon tea is made up of three courses with a pot of tea and is made up of sandwiches, scones, and then sweet pastries.
Cream tea, on the other hand, is one course consisting of scones, clotted cream and jam plus a pot of tea.
Who invented afternoon tea?
A hungry Duchess!
It’s thought that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, introduced afternoon tea in 1840 when she noticed she felt hungry around 4pm and she’d have to wait until the evening meal was served at 8pm.
She started ordering tea, bread and butter and cake to her rooms at Woburn Abbey and invited friends to join her. It was greatly enjoyed.
It is said she brought this habit with her to London, and it took off from then!
And where did the tradition of cream tea come from?
The origin of cream teas is disputed, but it is said that in the 11th century, monks from Tavistock Abbey in Devon served bread with jam and cream to local workmen who were repairing their abbey.
Then they began offering this deliciousness to travellers and the word got around!
When did the tradition of afternoon tea become popular?
During the 1850s the West Country experienced a boom in tourism and visitors looked for tearooms where they could enjoy the fine local ingredients used in a cream tea.
Though firmly rooted in Devon and Cornwall, cream teas are now offered all over the UK.
And what’s the ‘great debate’ all about?
The ‘great debate’ of course refers to whether cream should be put on a scone before the jam, or after.
There are regional variations of cream teas:
- With a Devon cream tea, the cream is spread first on the scone and the jam sits on top.
- With a Cornish cream tea, the jam comes first, and the cream follows.
- The people from Devonshire say that the cream should be treated as butter and that you can serve more cream that way.
- The Cornish argue that it’s much easier to spread the jam first and that you can taste the cream better if on top.
And so, the dispute continues!
Check out these interesting afternoon tea facts
- It’s thought that the raised pinkie was started by a noblewoman and because people admired the Royal Family, they began to copy it.
- Scones were not included in afternoon tea until the early 1900s.
- The most popular type of milk drunk in the UK is semi-skimmed.
- Britain’s favourite jam is strawberry.
- The Victoria Sponge recipe actually originated in Spain, dating back to the Renaissance but it was a favourite of Queen Victoria so it was named after her.
- To be a true Victoria Sponge the cake has to have cream as well as jam inside – otherwise, it’s just a jam sponge!
- Cornish clotted cream was described by William Gladstone (1809-1898) as ‘the food of the gods’.
And here are some fun tea facts
- 80% of Britons drink tea and consume 165m cups daily.
- 98% of people take their tea with milk.
- 30% take their tea with sugar.
- The world’s bestselling tea brand is Lipton.
- Britons’ favourite tea is black tea followed by Earl Grey, Oolong and herbal tea.
- Victorians had 2 teas, a ‘low tea’ and a ‘high tea’ – the ‘low tea’ taken on low tables and chairs by the upper classes and the ‘high tea’ taken around high tables by the working class at the end of the day.
- Fluoride in tea is good protection against plaque.
- China was the first country to drink tea.
- Tea contains half the amount of caffeine found in coffee.
- Afternoon tea differs from breakfast tea as it’s a lot lighter.
- Darjeeling tea is known as the ‘Champagne’ of tea.
- The world’s most expensive tea is Da Hong Pao, grown in the Wuyi Mountains of China.
There’s no doubt about it, afternoon tea is loved by most. It’s an indulgence, a perfect pick-me-up, and a great way to relax with friends.
Unsurprisingly, here at The British Hamper Company, we’re huge fans of afternoon tea.
We’re passionate about British artisan food, and afternoon tea treats are something our country is just brilliant at creating.
Our range of afternoon tea gifts is so popular that we have a huge number of afternoon tea hampers delivered across the UK every day!
Click here to view our afternoon tea hamper range.
Sourced from the UK’s finest artisan producers our hampers are filled with delicious treats and are suitable for all occasions.
Enjoy at home or send an afternoon tea gift by post today! We offer our entire range for afternoon tea delivery UK wide and hampers not containing fresh items are suitable for international delivery.
Our Top Afternoon Tea Hampers
1. The British Cream Tea Hamper
A traditional cream tea and many other sweet delights.
Perfectly sized for a couple to enjoy an afternoon tea together.
Coeliacs need not miss out with our gluten-free scones, cake and shortbread biscuits!
Before you head off to order your hamper - one last dispute!
Seeing as drinking tea is Britain’s national pastime, this is an important question coming up!
When making a cup of tea do you put the milk in first or last?
We as a nation are divided over this…. but not equally.
Apparently, 79% of us prefer to add the milk last!
In the past, it was the wealthy who poured the tea first as they had the best China cups that didn’t crack with high temperatures, and they liked to show off!
It’s a fun argument though.