“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Afternoon tea parties are fashionable again, in parallel to the rise of the rise of the cupcake and the resurgence of home baking we’ve seen the tradition of afternoon tea get a new lease of life.
The tradition of taking afternoon tea started in 1830-40, when the Duchess of Bedford asked for tea and light refreshments to be served in the afternoon. It was a light meal that was taken between an early lunch and a late evening meal. The Duchess is said to have enjoyed her afternoon refreshments so much so that she started inviting friends to join her to take tea and so the afternoon tea party began. It quickly became fashionable for ladies to take tea with friends in the afternoon and the afternoon tea party became an elegant event, often followed by a promenade in the park. Tea parties were largely restricted to the upper classes as they had time for leisurely afternoons. The lower classes had “high tea”, after a day of work, which was more substantial (the name high tea derives from the fact that it was taken at a high table, i.e. a dinner table, whereas afternoon tea, also known as “low tea” was taken at a low table).
Tea, of course, took centre stage at a tea party but the food and the serving of it was important too. Tea would be poured from silver pots into delicate fine bone china cups and food, consisting of sandwiches, scones and cakes, was served on elegant tiered cake stands and decorative plates.
The current fashion for afternoon tea often includes champagne and exquisite bite size cakes and pastries, less of a meal and more just a glamorous snack, it is still primarily enjoyed with friends and treated as an occasional luxury rather than a daily occurrence.
Afternoon tea is still thought of as a British tradition and all the top hotels will offer an afternoon tea, there are also afternoon teas with a twist now such as the fashionista tea at the Berkeley or the Alice in Wonderland inspired Mad Hatters afternoon tea at the Sanderson.