The warm weather outside may look perfect for outdoor exercise. But for those who are not that sporty, what could be nicer than having a relaxing afternoon tea with a few good friends and taking a break from studying?
But are you familiar with the culture of afternoon tea ― its origins, what’s included, and the proper etiquette? We sum up a few things you need to know about this traditional English custom so that you can enjoy it more.
Where it all began
While the tradition of drinking tea dates back to more than 3,000 BC in China, it was not until the mid 17th century that the concept of “afternoon tea” first appeared in the UK.
In 1840, Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started asking for a tea tray with butter, bread and cakes at 4 pm every day, as she found she was hungry at this time and the evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at 8 pm. She found this new habit difficult to break and soon invited other ladies in society to join her.
This pause for tea quickly became a fashionable social event. During the 1880s, upperclass and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea.
What an afternoon tea includes
Traditional afternoon tea, which is typically served between 4 pm and 6 pm, is technically a small meal, not a drink. It consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off are a classic), freshly baked scones served with cream and fruit jam, cakes and pastries. Of course, tea or coffee, served with milk and sugar, is also provided.
Nowadays, you can enjoy a traditional yet fancy afternoon tea with pot-brewed tea and delicate snacks in many restaurants and hotels. But in the average home, afternoon tea is likely to be much simpler ― biscuits with a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag.
Etiquette of afternoon tea
As with everything, a particular etiquette is associated with afternoon tea. Here are a few tips for ensuring your tea taking standards are faultless.
1. By definition, afternoon tea is a dainty meal. So, when you drink your tea, take small sips rather than “glugging” it down. There’s a definite order to taking tea, but the actual drinking of tea can take place throughout the “meal”.
2. Similarly, the food served should be consumed in a restrained fashion as well. Sandwiches are eaten first, followed by the sweet snacks, such as cakes, pastries and scones.
3. Scones are always broken, never cut. They should be served with jam and clotted cream, or butter. The jam goes on first, followed by the cream or butter.
4. Crumpets are buttered whole and then cut before eating.
5. Cakes and pastries should be made so that the use of a pastry fork is not needed, although if that’s not the case, the use of such an implement is perfectly acceptable.
6. If you take milk with your tea, pour the tea first and then add milk.