Afternoon tea started in England in the 1840s as a ritual mini-meal of sorts between the midday meal and dinner that was usually not eaten until 8pm. The meal consisted originally of a selection of small sandwiches and cakes, such as Victoria Sponge cake, to hold one over until the evening meal. Afternoon tea was distinguished from high tea because it was served on low tables, similar to a modern-day coffee table, where high tea was served on the high table, or a modern-day dining table.

Legend has it that Anna the Duchess of Bedford originally started the tradition when she would have small sandwiches and cakes brought to her chambers and started inviting friends over to join her for tea and conversation. While only initially adopted by a small group of the aristocracy, the ritual expanded into widespread practice after Queen Victoria adopted the ritual. Scones were added to the ritual in the early 1900s and now different countries have added their own twists; the French add macaroons, the Danes add wienerbröd, and the Swiss add nussgipfel. 

Today you can ‘take’ Afternoon Tea all over the UK, from local tea rooms to the high end hotels of London.


Originally published: May 7, 2019. 

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  • Patrick Kern
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