The History of Afternoon Tea
Hello and welcome to the Ashwell & Co blog. We are a vintage boutique and tearoom based in Bristol and over the years we’ve picked up a thing or two about afternoon tea, so we’d like to share some of that wisdom with you.
Who invented afternoon tea?
What could be more fun on a lovely day than sitting down to a proper afternoon tea? But do you know where the tradition comes from?
In 1840, Anna Marie Russel was the Seventh Duchess of Bedford and also Queen Victoria’s lady in waiting, had a problem. With the time between lunch and dinner getting long and longer (dinner was usually served between 8pm and 9pm) Anna was starting to get rather peckish by 4pm in the afternoon. Fed up of suffering through a growling stomach and the drop in her blood sugar, she started to send out for tea, sandwiches and a piece of cake to keep her going.
Feeling very satisfied with her snack choices, this became a daily thing. Then it became a daily thing with friends. Then, as these things often do, this became an event, with upper class ladies dressing in gowns, hats and gloves and stretching the concept from “afternoon tea” to a leisurely full afternoon affair!
What does a traditional afternoon tea consist of?
Traditionally the spread would include delicate finger sandwiches (yes cucumber was the main event here, this was supposed to be a snack!), scones with cream and jam and a small selection of pastries and cake served with a silver pot of Ceylon tea poured into a bone china cup. In fact, this is where the “milk first” argument springs from. Whilst most of us pour in the milk after the tea bag has brewed, when using something as fragile as bone china, the shock of hot water hitting the cup first was likely to damage it. Adding the milk before the water saved the set but probably made for some rubbish cups of tea.
Whilst we may go a little off-piste these days depending on the venue, the menu has kept very much the same. Even the Victorians would enjoy a small sherry with theirs every now and then which makes us feel better about popping a cork or two in the tea room!
These days our pre-dinner pick me up tends to lean more towards a mug of PG tips and a custard cream, not quite the break our great, great grandmothers might have enjoyed, but they had far more time on their hands.
If you would like to take time for tea, but not bother with the washing up, you can come and visit us at our tea room.
Head to our bookings page to book your table.