Nothing says Great Britain like a cup of tea and slice of cake. So, it makes sense that the afternoon tea has become one of the nation’s favourite culinary traditions.
During tea, you’re presented with perfectly cut sandwiches, dainty cakes, and scrumptious scones. But how much do you really know about this popular pastime?
In honour of Afternoon Tea Week, here are five fascinating facts about this quintessential British treat.
The hunger gap
Afternoon snacks are commonplace now. But in the 19th century, it was normal for Victorians to eat only 2 meals a day; breakfast and dinner.
That was a long time to wait between meals, so in 1840 the Duchess of Bedford asked for sandwiches, cake, and tea to be brought to her at 4pm each day.
Keen to share her new-found ritual, she began inviting friends to join her and the afternoon tea was born.
Game of Scones
How we pronounce one of the main elements of an afternoon tea can be rigorously debated. Would you be a ‘Games of Scones’ or a ‘Scone with the Wind’ kind of person?
The origin of the word scone (however you say it) is believed to come from the Dutch word ‘schoonbrot’, which means beautiful bread.
Playing by the rules
Have you ever wanted to know the correct way to hold a teacup or exactly how to eat a crustless sandwich? If you don't have the time to study an episode of Downtown Abbey to find out, here are some tips;
- In the past, you would add milk to the teacup first to protect the delicate china from the hot tea. As time’s gone on it’s now more common to add the tea first, followed by the milk.
- When stirring your tea, start from the 6 o'clock position moving upwards to 12 o'clock. This gentle back and forth motion is the preferred etiquette, rather than the common circular stir.
- As you begin to eat your food, always start from the bottom of the tea stand and make your way to the top.
- For sandwiches, start with the lightest fillings such as cucumber or egg first. Then move onto the heavier meat-filled sandwiches.
Fit for a Queen
Queens have been one of the main inspirations of the tea and cake tradition for centuries. After all, Queen Victoria’s love of fluffy sponge, buttercream, and jam resulted in the Victoria Sponge Cake we know and love today.
For many of us, it's unlikely we'll have the chance to sip tea with an actual royal. But there are now royal afternoon tea experiences in London, which you can get to in under two hours from our central location in the heart of England.
A royal price tag
The world’s most expensive afternoon tea used some of the world’s most expensive ingredients.
The extravagant spread included white truffles costing £2,500 per kg and beluga caviar at £4,000 per kg.
To wash it down, Da Hong Pao tea was served. The tea is harvested from 1,000-year-old plants grown in the Wuyi Mountains of China.
And on the subject of pricey tea, PG tips created the world’s most expensive tea bag valued at £7,500. Each bag is encrusted with diamonds and filled with the most expensive Darjeeling tea in the world.