Posted 11th Aug 2014
In 1840 Anne, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started requesting tea, bread and cake at 4pm to stave off hunger until dinner, and before long this afternoon tea became a much-loved, quintessentially British tradition enjoyed across the country. National Afternoon Tea Week (from 11th to 17th August) celebrates this great heritage with a week of activities, themed menus and offers in tearooms across the UK
The tradition of drinking tea and enjoying a slice of cake is a long established pastime, and to find out more we explored the colourful history and changing faces – and flavours – of tea through time.
Catherine of Bragnaza, married to Charles II, was not the first tea drinker in Britain, but was one of the first to make it fashionable to sip a cup of tea. Originally from Portugal, this trend was brought to the UK. It was claimed by the poet Edmund Waller that Catherine was responsible for spreading this throughout the court.
Due to the increase in popularity of tea and a fall in drinking heavily taxed liquids such as ale, King Charles introduced a taxation on tea so that coffee houses needed a licence to sell it; by 1750 this duty on tea was already at 119%.
The book 'Wholesale Advice Against the Abuse of Hot Liquors', by Dr Daniel Duncan, was published warning that the drinking of hot beverages could cause medical problems if over consumed.
William Pitt dropped the high tea tax from 119% to 12.5% as pressure from the increased black market trade of tea forced him to open up the trade once more.
Anna Maria Stanhope, later the Duchess of Bedford, is given the honour of being known as the inventor of traditional afternoon tea. It is said that she used to feel weak during the afternoon following lunch and would ask her housekeepers to bring her tea and bread at about 4pm. As this habit grew it progressed into dainty cakes and sandwiches that are recognised as part of afternoon tea today. Anna served for Queen Victoria in the court, so was highly respected and looked up to in society; this meant that an invitation to tea with her was greatly sought after.
Following relations with China, Chinese tea began to be imported into Britain once again.
Alice in Wonderland is published, including the great tea party scene with the Mad Hatter.
Ceylon tea and other blends from India became popular in Britain, as they benefited from cheap trade. New tea flavours are branched into Britain as demand grew.
Wearing of tea gowns became popular. Intended to be worn indoors, the gowns were informal in style and most importantly, loose fitting!
'There are few hours in life more agreeable that the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,' Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady.
End of 19th century/early 20th century
Tea rooms started to appear in Lyons corner houses from 1909, followed by tea salons within department stores and hotels.
Tango tea dances are introduced.
The tea bag is introduced.
Tea was rationed during the war and reduced to 2oz of tea per person each week, but the extra was given to those fighting, working in emergency services and sent in Red Cross packages.
George Orwell's 'A Nice Cup of Tea' was published, with detailed instructions on how to make the perfect cup of tea and make the most of tea rations during the war to get the best tasting tea. He quotes 11 golden rules for which to make tea by, most controversially that milk should be added after the tea and drunk without sugar.
The largest cup of tea on record was 4,000 litres in volume and produced by GlaxoSmithKline.
On 27th April, Burco Water Boilers achieved the record for the most cups of tea made in one hour, it took a team of just 12 people to make a massive 1,608 cups of tea.
So, what do chocolate fudge beach huts, miniature ice cream cones, cigars and tiered cake stands all have in common? They are all treats that can found on a wide range of afternoon tea menus available across the country. So shake off that outdated view of afternoon teas as the privileged pastime and take advantage of a 25% discount at participating venues across the country this Afternoon Tea Week.
- Celebrate the great British summer with the Intercontinental London Westminster’s Afternoon Tea, which features The Beach – a true work of art by their talented pastry team including chocolate fudge beach huts, cherry cheesecake bucket and spades, peach mousse sandcastles, toffee and chocolate wheels and chocolate cones all of which sit on an almond sand. It’s got to be seen to be believed!
- Whether it’s sweeping countryside or a seaside setting, enjoy afternoon tea with a view at venues including Tylney Hall in Hampshire, Cooden Beach Hotel in Bexhill-on-Sea and Lindeth Howe Hotel in Cumbria.
- Afternoon tea gets the rockstar treatment at Sanctum with the gentleman’s afternoon tea. Forget dainty china and pretty pastries – this tea is all about big flavours with poached oyster, lamb hotpot, seared steak and smoked salmon served up alongside Jack Daniels ice cream and a cigar.
- Afternoon tea is the perfect family activity, kids will especially love the afternoon tea inspired by Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at One Aldwych. From decadent golden eggs to blueberry brioche and playful flavoured candy floss, every treat reflects the wit and wonder of Roald Dahl's classic tale. The Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson includes British food, English ceramics and a large dash of our renowned eccentricity including a Victoria sponge clock and strawberry and cream homemade marshmallow mushrooms.
- Think afternoon tea is limited to hotels and restaurants? Think again and jump on the BB Bakery Bus for afternoon tea served on a vintage routemaster as it tours the capital, or immerse yourself in history and sit down for tea in castles from Cheshire to Dartmoor.
Find out what’s happening in your region by visiting www.afternoontea.co.uk, the online home of afternoon tea.