Afternoon tea is a rather quaint English custom. While the custom of drinking tea dates back to the 3rd millennium BC in China and then subsequently popularised in England during the 1660’s by King Charles II and his Portuguese wife,it was not until the mid 17th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
Afternoon tea was the light bulb moment of Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around 4pm in the afternoon-yeah, girl we’ve all been there. But back then, the evening meal was served fashionable late at 8pm. Welcome to Europe. This left a long period in between lunch and dinner. So, the Duchess asked (or rather-instructed) that a tray of tea, bread and a selection of nice cakes be brought to her room during the late afternoon, allowing her to feed. Or at least quell her hunger pangs. This quickly became a habit and she began inviting friends to join her. The rest is history or rather HERstory. During the 1880’s upper class society women would put on their best clothes, gloves and hats and indulge in a littler afternoon delight, I mean afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between 4 and 5pm. Oh how very sophisticated.
I recently had afternoon tea at The Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair. I felt like the Queen of England-but we all know there is only ONE Queen of England. It was a really rather lovely affair. There was a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries. Of course there was a plethora of tea to choose from. I heard a rumour that if you go to The Dorchester Hotel and order Lipton Tea with your afternoon tea, they will ask you to leave. Am sure its true. You have been warned. Of course, you can have afternoon tea at home with a bit of cake or a biscuit and some tea in a mug. It is not the same but it is kind of. Also, at least try to use tea leaves rather than a teabag.
So, if you make it to the UK (and I hope you do) you should treat yourself to afternoon tea. And like so many things in life-there are rules. Below is a link on rules or etiquette regarding afternoon tea. The link showcases William Hanson, an etiquette consultant, social commentator and broadcaster based in Manchester. In fact he was named ‘Britain’s youngest manners and etiquette expert.’
If I were to ever meet William Hanson, I would ask him about the fish knife. The fish knife really confuses me. Can’t I use just an ordinary knife? Can’t I just push the food or fish onto my fork with my thumb? Well, you can take the girl out of America but you can’t take America out of the girl. Anyway, here is the link as William Hanson explains the rules on afternoon tea. Enjoy.