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Things You Didn’t Know About British Afternoon Tea

Many people associate afternoon tea with scenes of ladies gathered around a table having a tea party, gossiping, and taking elegant-looking photos. However, British afternoon tea has a culture surrounding it that is just as intricate and fascinating as it is elegant and relaxing having a teatime of your own.

  • Origins

While Britain’s food is often considered lackluster, British afternoon tea significantly burnishes the overall image of British cuisine. In the 17th century when Princess Catherine of Portugal was married, China brought tea to England, and a tea-drinking ethos developed among the royalty. As the kingdom entered the British Victorian era in the 19th century, England became unprecedentedly powerful and prosperous. It established colonies and dependencies all around the world, making it known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” The intense power and wealth of the country allowed people to pursue a higher quality of life, especially among noble families.

Around the year 1840 — when people only ate two meals per day, once at 8 a.m. and once more at 8 p.m — Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, woke up around 4 p.m. after taking a nap. She felt a little hungry, so she had her maid make some snacks. The maid prepared some desserts and poured a pot of black tea for her. Anna was satisfied. Later, Anna started to invite her girlfriends to the mountain resort for refreshments and strolls through the countryside. As the years went on, nobilities began to adopt this occasion for gathering, and afternoon tea became more and more formal and luxurious. The location of afternoon tea shifted from a lady’s boudoir to the sitting room. In these times, afternoon tea became the place to socialize.

  • The Difference between High & Low Tea

The most orthodox afternoon tea begins at 4 p.m., with “high tea” differing slightly from “low tea.” Nowadays, most venues serve high tea. Specifically, high tea refers to afternoon tea taken around 5 p.m. among middle and lower classes. Many snacks are served with high tea, and diners usually sit on high wingback chairs, thus leading to the term “high tea.”

In contrast, low tea is an afternoon tea traditionally served to the upper class. The snacks come in lower quantity, and goers usually sit on comfortable sofas. Refreshments are placed on a low and decorative tea table.