afternoon tea stand and teapot in cafe

What is Afternoon Tea?

We all know what breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all about, but what is afternoon tea?

For us, afternoon tea brings to mind the idea of relaxing and indulging: this isn’t something to be rushed. It is an experience, a moment to be savoured, of delicious food and drink accompanied by fabulous company, or a moment of ‘me time’.

The history of afternoon tea

Where did it all begin? Well, we have the 7th Duchess of Bedford to thank.

In the early 1900s, it was very popular and fashionable to have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 8pm. This left Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, feeling rather peckish half way through the day so she decided to start her own trend. Anna began enjoying a daily light snack of bread and tea in her private bedroom and soon she decided to turn this into a wonderful social event! Anna would invite her best girlfriends over at 3pm for tea, finger food, and cake. Although a much more informal affair than dinner, where a good gossip could be had, this new tradition came with protocol. Gorgeous tea dresses, long dress gloves and hats were to be worn when afternoon tea was served in the drawing room or ladies’ parlour. News then spread fast and upper class homes began enjoying this new trend England. With the popularity growing, Tea Parties were becoming the norm, and Tea Rooms and Tea Gardens became the new hot spots of town.

a drawing room fit for a Duchess?

Throughout the years, afternoon tea has survived the changing trends of time and is now more popular than ever. Nowadays, afternoon tea isn’t just for the aristocrats of society! It is enjoyed by all ages and genders with each venue offering their own take on afternoon tea. So whether you prefer the traditional afternoon teas served on fine bone china at the most exquisite hotels, the cosy cafes offering the most relaxing and laid back experiences with large choices of homemade cakes, the stylish and modern restaurants that offer the best ‘tipsy’ experiences, or the homely pubs that cater to the gentleman’s experience of bite sized pies and sandwiches accompanied by a refreshing pint. There’s no limit to afternoon tea! If your planning a catch up with friends, looking to celebrate a special occasion or simply feel like indulging, then afternoon tea ticks every box.

Is tea not your tipple? Fear not, despite the name, afternoon tea isn’t all about the tea…

Afternoon tea & high tea – what’s the difference?

To most people and venues, high tea and afternoon tea are one and the same thing; a dining experience of delicious finger sandwiches, scones, and sweet treats of cake and scones. There is a historical difference between the two, but we’ll keep it short and sweet.

Afternoon tea was more about the experience. Traditionally enjoyed on low, comfy chairs while indulging on fingers sandwiches, scones, homemade cake, and sweet treats served with pots of the finest tea. The event was about a good gossip and socialising more than the food (it’s definitely much better to ‘spill the tea’ over delicious treats!).

High tea was more filling and, quite appropriately named, served on higher dining tables. High tea was a much more substantial meal than afternoon tea, that often included hot pastries and larger goodies.

Fun facts

Is your favourite part of afternoon tea the warm and fluffy scones? Then you might want to head to Belfast, Northern Ireland, home to Neill’s Flour who baked the world’s largest scone in November 2017. It was a whopping 141.8kg and absolutely delicious. Congratulations team!

The UK drinks a staggering 165 million cups of tea a DAY! That’s 60.2 BILLION cups a year. No wonder afternoon tea started and continues to be most popular in the UK.

If anyone was to host the world’s largest tea party then who better fitted for the role than the queen of baking herself, Mary Berry. In July 2018, Cath Kidston and Mary Berry hosted the world’s largest tea party in London to celebrate 125 fabulous years of Cath Kidston and National Cream Tea Day.

No matter the flavour, size or colour – if it’s tea, us Brits will drink it!