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Classically British - Afternoon Tea

Here at Twinings, we’re celebrating all things British with our ‘Classically British’ series. This week we explore the history of the afternoon tea.

Here at Twinings, we’re celebrating all things British with our ‘Classically British’ series of informative articles. From mapping the history of tea rooms to offering guidance on ‘proper’ tea etiquette, we’re inviting you to join us as we put a pot on and get comfy around some great British traditions! This week, we take a look at the ins and outs of the quintessentially British practice of having afternoon tea.

Enjoying an afternoon tea at an established tea room, or hosting one yourself at home, is a tradition which is alive as much today as it has been for centuries; still able to evoke the same elegance, calm and refined atmosphere that it would have way back in the Victorian era.

Read on to discover where this tradition comes from, and how to go about hosting the perfect afternoon tea yourself.

AFTERNOON TEA - A HISTORY

The British ceremony of afternoon tea dates way back to the 1840’s, and it grew out of the existing rituals and routines that came with drinking tea in Britain before this period.

Back in the 1650’s, tea was an expensive and rare treat from across the empire and therefore drew the attention of the aristocracy.

Once the drink was enjoyed by the royal family, its popularity spread out to the upper classes. Wealthy gentlemen would frequent coffee houses that began selling tea, and upper class ladies would buy small amounts of loose leaf tea and brew some at home for friends and family.

The ships that brought tea from China and Japan also returned to Europe with all manner of other cargo including tea bowls, porcelain pots and quaint porcelain jars. Like the new exotic drink that had become popular with wealthy people, these items too became highly sought after and were synonymous with the luxurious experience of drinking tea. To this day, we still associate a refined tea party as including ‘the best china’ to go along with it. 

Because tea itself was expensive, servants were not allowed to handle it themselves. The lady of the house would keep tea in Chinese jars in her closet alongside the cups and pot until it was time to offer some to guests. She wore the key to the closet around her neck to make sure it was completely safe.

At this point, a servant would bring out furniture, set up the tea making equipment and bring in a kettle of boiling water. Then it was up to the lady herself to brew the leaves and pour the tea into little handle-less Chinese bowls to serve to her guests.

Drinking tea with guests continued to evolve and certain patterns and rituals started which would transform afternoon tea into what we know it as today. 

ANNA MARIA, DUCHESS OF BEDFORD

During the 18th century, the time of day in which people would enjoy their evening dinner got gradually later, as it became less expensive to light and heat your home.

As a result of this, luncheon was created to fill the midday gap between meals, but many found that they were still hungry in the course of the long afternoon.

It was Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford - or Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire - who is often accredited as inventing afternoon tea as the custom we now know it.

Anna Maria was one such person who found that the long afternoon left her feeling peckish, and asked her maid to bring her all the tea making equipment at around 4 o’clock along with a slice or two of buttered bread.

Anna Maria found this afternoon treat to be such perfect refreshment that she soon starting inviting her friends to join her.

As it was more of a social event than a meal, ladies would attend to catch up on gossip with friends and to talk about the latest fashions, to be seen in the right places, with the right people, and almost as an afterthought - drink some tea and nibble on a small finger sandwich or sweet cakes and biscuits.

Once this trend took off amongst fashionable society, people began to host afternoon tea to suit any occasion, whether they were drawing room events for 10-20 guests, small intimate teas with 3-4 friends, or grand tea parties, picnics and croquet events in the garden.

The growing middle classes who closely followed the trends of the upper classes found that hosting afternoon tea was a very economical way of entertaining larger groups, without spending too much money! A few pots of tea and a spot of finger food was all that they needed!

This grand British tradition shows no signs of waning, as the nation’s tea rooms are still packed with people coming together over one of life’s simple pleasures, a good pot of tea and a snack!

GIVE IT A GO…

Why not embrace this quintessential British tradition and host your own afternoon tea get together?

All you need is a pot of delicious Twinings tea from our lovingly created range of teas, some elegant and charming tea ware, a spot of finger food, such as crust-less sandwiches and small cakes, a space to fit it all in and - of course - your nearest and dearest to enjoy it with.

Why not send us some pictures and stories from your afternoon tea parties and get-togethers on our Twitter feed.

Afternoon Tea Serving Accessories

Explore the Twinings Teaware Shop

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Afternoon Tea Collection

£13.50 each

A selection of our favourite blends. Just perfect for Afternoon Tea.

Silver-plated Tea Strainer

£16.00 each

Out of stock

This elegant two-handled, silver-plated tea strainer will complement your best tea set.

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Tea Timer

£32.50 each

Our Twinings Tea Timer will help you brew your teas and infusions for the right amount of time!

New

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Alison Appleton Fritz Teapot - White

£22.00 each

Fritz porcelain teapot with fine stainless steel infuser is perfect for brewing the finest tea exactly how you like it.

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