Home | Cookbooks | Diary | Magic Menu | Surprise! | More ≡

Afternoon Tea

Classic Meals

A light meal of sandwiches, sweet pastries and tea, taken in the late morning or in the afternoon. See also: High Tea

Dandies at Tea
Robert Cruikshank, 1818

Tea was introduced to England about 1660, and the practice of drinking it at an afternoon social gathering is well-known at least since the beginning of the 18th Century, with references like this one in Richard Steele and Joseph Addison's 'Guardian' magazine of April 20th 1814; "It is a most vexatious thing to an old Man who endeavours to square his Notions by Reason and to talk from Reflection and Experience to fall in with a Circle of young Ladies at their Afternoon Tea Table".

The earliest references which definitely indicate the meal of tea with bread and cakes we now known begin in the 1750's with advertisments in the elegant and prosperous cities of Oxford, Bristol and most frequently from the water-cure resort town of Bath, as in this one from 1766

From 'Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette'
Thursday 10 April 1766

There is a puzzlingly often-repeated story that Afternoon Tea was invented by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), though A.T was clearly well-established long before the Duchess was even born. The confusion may have its origin in a passage, much reproduced at the time, from the autobiography of the actress (and anti-slavery campaigner) Fanny Kemble, published in 1882, where she recollects a visit to Belvoir Castle in March 1842. There she found the Duchess of Bedford with a small and select circle of female guests busily employed in making and drinking tea, and comments that "I do not believe that now universally honoured and observed institution of five o'clock tea dates further back in the annals of English civilization than this very private and I think rather shame-faced practice of it".

Afternoon tea once had a certain conspiratorial mystique. Eighty years earlier The Gentlemen's Magazine for October 1758 had; "Afternoon tea drinking is censured in the lower and middle classes as a waste of time and money, an occasion of gossiping, slander and sometimes intrigue."

A Celebration Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

The famous Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel serves afternoon tea from 11.30am to 5.30pm, for which the menu for December 2006 was:

Sandwiches, all served as small fingers with the crusts removed:
Smoked Salmon,
Egg Mayonnaise with Cress,
Chicken and Mayonnaise
Cucumber with Cream Cheese
Raisin and Apple Scones with Devonshire clotted cream and Strawberry Preserve,
Assortment of Afternoon Tea Pastries and Cakes,
Fruits of The Forest Compote with Cream
a choice of teas.

MORE FROM Foods of England...
Cookbooks Diary Index Magic Menu Random Really English? Timeline Donate English Service Food Map of England Lost Foods Accompaniments Biscuits Breads Cakes and Scones Cheeses Classic Meals Curry Dishes Dairy Drinks Egg Dishes Fish Fruit Fruits & Vegetables Game & Offal Meat & Meat Dishes Pastries and Pies Pot Meals Poultry Preserves & Jams Puddings & Sweets Sauces and Spicery Sausages Scones Soups Sweets and Toffee About ... Bookshop

Email: editor@foodsofengland.co.uk