Afternoon tea – so decadent, so civilized, so British! Imagine finely cut finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve, teacakes, pastries and the very best tea money can buy. Our appetite for afternoon tea is as strong as ever, but where did it all start?
Most people agree the credit goes to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who in the 1840s, because of the long stretch of time between lunch and the evening meal, suffered from afternoon “hunger spells.” She remedied them with a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake. Once she began sharing her delightful new habit with friends, it soon it progressed into a full-blown social event among the English aristocracy. With the upper-class and society women changing into long gowns, gloves and hats to have what was called afternoon tea, which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
Surprisingly the term ‘high tea’ comes from the working classes of the time. Workers would not get a break at lunch time and when the returned home were famished. They ate straight away, a substantial ‘high-tea’ consisting of pies, cheese, bread, meat and potatoes which was served at the dinner table – hence the ‘high’ part rather than at low sofas preferred at the afternoon tea. In fact, in parts of the U.K. to this day the evening meal is still called ‘tea’ rather than dinner.
The upper-class high tea is an amalgamation of this and the afternoon tea, served with lavish additions such as pigeon, veal or salmon rather than the rustic offerings of the working classes. It was, a convenient meal that could be eaten when their servants were away or not available, as it was so easy to prepare.
Decisions, decisions. An essential at any good afternoon tea is the scone. This leads to the important question of whether to have your split scone topped with cream first and then jam or vice versa. The answer differs depending on who you ask. Ask a Cornish man and he will tell you jam first and then cream, but not any old cream, it must be clotted cream. If you are a few miles away in Devon, then you must put the cream onto the scone first and then the jam.
The 1920s may have marked the height of the craze but today the ritual of afternoon tea is still very popular, with most major hotels and tearooms offering a luxurious afternoon tea, often with champagne. For those who like to recreate it at home, take note: regular tea and crockery just will not do! It has to be the finest tea, a beautiful silver teapot, cake stands, crisp table linen and of course the very best chinaware.
The Rosabagh collection from Good Earth is the perfect companion to any sumptuous afternoon tea. The set features enchanting motifs evoking a vintage Persian garden. Birds and cheetahs are surrounded by lush greenery alongside the striking architecture of a baradari or pavilion. In beautiful colours of aqua and fuchsia with 24 carat gold detailing this range is the show-stopping china you need for such an indulgent affair.
You can view the full range here.