The Afternoon Tea - Everything You Should Know About The British Tradition

| Afternoon Tea
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The Story Of An Afternoon Tea Tradition

The British And Our Love Of Drinking Tea

How many of us start the day drinking tea? We know just about everybody in the WonderDays camp does.

A 2019 survey revealed 75% of Brits drink at least one cup of tea a day, while one in 10 of us consume at least six cups day.

Black tea is the most popular choice across all age demographics, although herbal and fruit teas are also popular among young adults.

Breakfast tea was the favourite among almost half of those surveyed, with Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam all enjoyed to a lesser extent.

A whopping 80.6 million kilograms of tea are sold in the UK each year.

The average person is likely to drink around 604 cups over 12 months.

It's no wonder the afternoon tea tradition is so popular, when it combines our love of drinking tea with our love of tasty food and sweet treats.

Tea's enduring popularity in the UK is deeply rooted in its historical and cultural landscape. Initially introduced in the 17th century, tea swiftly moved from a luxury item to an everyday necessity across all social classes, bolstered by Britain's prominence in the global tea trade through its empire. This historical transition transformed tea into a national symbol, intertwining it with British identity.

The social aspect of tea drinking also plays a crucial role. It's not just a beverage but a ritual, providing structure to the day with morning teas and afternoon tea breaks. These rituals foster social interactions and offer comfort, reinforcing tea's place in daily life.

Moreover, the UK's cool, rainy climate makes a warm cup of tea an appealing beverage. This, combined with the habitual nature of tea drinking established over generations, ensures its continued popularity. The adaptability of tea, being suitable for various occasions and times of day, further cements its status as a beloved drink in the UK.

Tea As The Perfect Pick Me Up

Did you also know that 80% of the caffeine in tea is released during the first 30 seconds of brewing?

If you're looking to reduce your caffeine but still want to enjoy the taste of 'proper' tea, you can steep the tea for 30 seconds, pour away the infused water and then quickly brew the same tea leaves or bag with fresh water.

We love afternoon tea here at WonderDays! Which is why we're toasting Afternoon Tea Week with a full bodied celebration of this fantastic British tradition.

Read on to find out all you need to know about the afternoon tea of both today and years gone by.

Afternoon tea infographic

What Is An Afternoon Tea?

The afternoon tea tradition is a light selection of sandwiches, scones and cakes served with freshly brewed tea.

Served in tea rooms across the UK and beyond (and not just in tea rooms anymore as you can have an afternoon tea bus London !), it has grown from its traditional role of staving off hunger before an evening meal into a social and celebratory meal with your favourite friends and family enjoyed at any time of the day from lunch onward.

Afternoon tea is almost always served from a tiered stand with proper china cups and plates.

The History Of Afternoon Tea

The traditional afternoon tea as we know it has its origins in the 1840s, when Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, complained of getting that "sinking feeling" in the late afternoon before it was time for dinner.

A prominent member of London society and a close friend of Queen Victoria, the duchess inspired the traditional light meal for a social gathering millions of us still enjoy for a special occasion today.

The Afternoon Tea Tradition

While there have been plenty of new 'twists' on the traditional afternoon tea over the years, there are some key components that simply can't be changed.

These include:

  • Your choice of tea, served from the pot into proper fine china cups with saucers
  • Sandwiches with light fillings, cut into either fingers or triangles
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • A selection of small and delicious cakes, pastries or other sweet treats

Sandwiches must have a light spreading of butter on the bread and everything must be served on a tiered stand with lightweight, china crockery.

Which Location In The UK Is Famous For Afternoon Tea?

From Claridges to the Ritz and Betty's Tea Rooms to Fortum and Mason's afternoon tea, you're as spoilt for high end choices as you are for more budget friendly options.

The Goring Hotel near Buckingham Palace, has received awards for best London afternoon tea from Tea Guild 2013 Awards 2013.

Afternoon teas that are lighter on the pocket can be found all over the UK, from Chester to Perth and Exeter to Bristol.

Types Of Afternoon Tea

The most popular afternoon tea service in the UK is the traditional one with tea, sandwiches, scones and classic British cakes such as Victoria sponge and fruit cake.

However, a Champagne afternoon tea has rapidly grown in popularity over the years, as have Prosecco afternoon tea and other tipsy teas serving gin or even rum.

What Is Afternoon Tea and Bubbles
What is afternoon tea?

Italian afternoon tea with antipasti, focaccia and cannoli alongside the traditional scones is becoming a favourite late lunch treat.

If you really do have a sweet tooth, chocolate-themed might be the afternoon tea for you.

You can even enjoy the afternoon tea tradition aboard a quintessential red London bus.

Cream Tea

A cream tea is not the same as an afternoon tea.

Cream teas generally consist of scones with clotted cream and jam, served with freshly brewed tea or sometimes coffee, for those who prefer.

It doesn't include sandwiches or other sweet pastries and cakes but is still a delicious afternoon treat.

High Tea

High tea is very different to both cream tea and traditional afternoon tea.

This was a heavy, filling meal of meat, fish, pies, bread and vegetables, served around 5pm in working class households after a hard day of graft.

High tea was a far cry from the historical afternoon tea as a social gathering for the elite and upper classes.

Jam Or Cream First?

The West Country is home to one of the longest running debates in history.

Is it cream first or jam first on your scones?

With each having a strong claim to the origin of the cream tea, both Cornwall and Devon agree to disagree on which should come first.

In Cornwall, jam must be spread first and the cream dolloped on top whereas in Devon, it's cream first with jam on top.

Game Of Scones Jam Or Cream First Screenshot
Is it jam first or clotted cream first when you enjoy a scone with afternoon tea?

Spilling The Tea

Another hotly debated topic is which is the best tea to serve with afternoon tea?

Earl Grey is a popular and strong choice, while classic English Breakfast tea is another.

Assam is a slightly alternative choice, along with green tea for those looking for an antioxidant boost.

We wonder which tea the Duchess Of Bedford would have chosen when she enjoyed afternoon tea in her decadent drawing room?

The Science Behind The Tea

Yes, afternoon tea is delicious and everyone knows freshly brewed tea served straight from the pot in china cups tastes the best but what is it about tea that makes it so good?

The soluble part of the tea leaf is what defines its unique taste and contains all the health benefits we love.

Polyphenols, which most of us know as tannins or catechins, make up the largest part, followed by amino acids (theanine), caffeine and minerals.

Tannins are types of antioxidants and are higher in green and white tea, because the oxidization of black tea reduces the catechin content.

Why Is Afternoon Tea Such A Popular Tradition?

Traditionally, afternoon tea was served between four and five o'clock in the afternoon and enjoyed by society women from London and beyond.

A light but satisfying spread, it would keep your energy levels up in the few hours between lunch and your evening meal.

Screenshot The Origin Of Afternoon Tea
The origin of afternoon tea.

Nowadays, it's the perfect relaxed occasion around the table with family and friends, whether enjoyed at lunchtime or late afternoon.

Sometimes people even enjoy afternoon tea in the morning - something we can totally get on board with.

As far as we're concerned, whether four o'clock, midday or late in the hour of an evening, any time of the day is perfect for afternoon tea time.

Download The Love For Afternoon Teas

If you love our WonderDays infographic spilling all the sweet and savoury facts about afternoon tea, we'd love you to give it a share and help us celebrate this enduring and classic British tradition.

Also check out our Afternoon Tea Spotify playlist here for some perfect tunes to drink tea, eat sandwiches and enjoy delicious scones with clotted cream and jam to.

Download a PDF of The Story Of Afternoon Tea infographic.
Spotify playlist Afternoon Tea
Scan to play our Afternoon Tea Spotify playlist.

*Data Sources And References

Most Expensive Teas,
2020, Tea Market Stats,
Worldwide Tea Market,
Industry Revenue of Coffee and Tea Making,
Worldwide Tea Importing,
Tea Market Revenue Worldwide,
Global Exports of Tea,
COVID-19 Impact on Tea Industry,
Worldwide Tea Culture,
Tea Chemistry,
UK Tea Consumption,
UK Tea Market Sales + Predictions, 2012 - 2025,
Afternoon Tea Popularity Increase,
General Info,
Bubble Tea Market, https://www.alliedmarketresear...
Most Expensive Teas,
2020, Tea Market Stats,
Tea price increase,
Turkey, Tea Market, https://www.foodnavigator-asia...
Green Tea Market, https://www.marketresearchfutu...
Tea Side Effects,
Worldwide Tea Market,
Industry Revenue of Coffee and Tea Making,
Worldwide Tea Importing,
Tea Market Revenue Worldwide,
China, Tea Production,
Global Exports of Tea,
UK Herbal, Fruit, & Green Tea, 2020,
Bubble Tea,
Expensive Teas,
COVID-19 Impact on Tea Industry,
Australian Tea Market,
Tea Consumption,
Worldwide Tea Culture,
Da Hong Pao Tea,
Tea Chemistry,

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