Tea. Is there anything more quintessentially British? I’ve lived here for a little over five years now, but I learned early on that the day doesn’t truly start until you’ve had your morning cuppa. That getting the ‘tea round’ right at a new job is akin to the initiation into a cult. That any bonding experience that has or will happen WILL include a brew (because if it happened in the absence of tea, did it ever happen at all?) And that a coffee drinker may as well have committed treason. Jokes aside, a good cup of tea is like a hug in a mug – nothing makes a person feel better than a cup of tea juuuuust the way they like it, your girl included, who incidentally loves hers strong, with four sweeteners. (Cue audible gasps and poorly concealed judgement).
While I won’t be flaking on my good old Nespresso anytime soon and like to think of myself as ‘beverage neutral’ – the Switzerland of warm drinks if you will, there is one advantage tea has over coffee, making it a strong contender at winning The Battle The the Beverages. I am, of course, referring to the custom of Afternoon Tea. Seriously coffee, you need up up your game.
I’d like to say I’ve been to my fair share of Afternoon Teas over the past five years, but I wouldn’t be being honest. You see, the truth is, I’ve been to about eight people’s fair shares of Afternoon Teas because I just. can’t. get. enough. (Hi. My name is Anushka and I’m an Afternoon Tea-a-holic. Insert waving hand emoji here). I’m not sure whether it’s the history behind it, whether there’s something about it that is so decadently feminine, the fact that it presents a great Instagram opportunity or that it makes me feel posh AF, but if you invite me to Afternoon Tea, you can rest assured that I WILL be there.
Afternoon Tea events seem to be becoming increasingly popular in a professional capacity as well, with Afternoon Tea meetings, leaving do’s and work baby showers becoming the new trend. And the last thing you want to do is not know your Earl Grey from your Darjeeling or whether it is pronounced ‘scone’ or ‘scon’ in front of you boss.
So if you want a bit of background to impress your colleagues with ora re simply curious about the history behind it and all the right etiquette to use to avoid making a faux pas at the table, read on to learn a thing or two:
The History of Afternoon Tea
Britain’s relationship with tea dates all the way back to the 1600’s when Queen Elizabeth I comissioned the charter of the East India Company to establish trade with the Far East, Southeast Asia and India – all countries with a rich tea crop. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Afternoon Tea as a concept came into existence. It is a common misconception that Queen Victoria herself was the creator of Afternoon Tea. However, legend has it that Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope aka The Duchess of Bedford is the original creator.
Apparently lunches had grown fashionably smaller during that time, and as a result, she suffered from what she described as a ‘sinking feeling’ at about 4pm (aka ‘The 3pm Slump’ of the modern world). A woman after my own heart. She had her servants sneak her a cup of tea and a few bread-based nibbles to keep her going until supper and soon began inviting her friends along to participate in her secret little ritual. Over that summer at Belvoir Castle, a menu developed for this little afternoon mini-meal comprising of small cakes, sandwiches, sweets and tea, and the ladies would often be invited round for tea and a walk in the fields. Soon, her friends started adopting this little ritual for themselves and it became a trend among hostesses all over the country.
Afternoon Tea does have a history of being a strictly feminine activity, however, these days, you also see a lot of couples enjoying it together and sometimes, even groups of men.
What made having Afternoon Tea, a ritual with such an interesting back story of its own, so much more special, was being able to enjoy it at a venue steeped with its own fascinating story as well. The hotel, as you can probably tell by its name, used to be the old Court House in the historic town of Knutsford, Cheshire. It hasn’t been used for a hearing since 2010, and all active hearings were transferred to Warrington or Chester. Since then, the iconic building has been bought over, refurbished and as of the start of 2018, is now a beautiful hotel with stunning interiors that is already a firm favourite with the Cheshire set. The Barrister’s restaurant, where we enjoyed our Afternoon Tea, is the actual courtroom where the judge would sit, the sweetest little ode to which was a galvel on the bar.
The Different Types of Afternoon Tea
An interesting fact about Afternoon Tea is that it is often used interchangabily with High Tea. However, they are two entirely separate concepts. Afternoon Tea was enjoyed by the nobility between 2 and 4pm where they would each get individual cakes, sandwiches and scones. High Tea, however, was enjoyed by the house help at around 6pm with leftovers from their employers’ Afternoon Tea and with a large cake and / or loaf of bread that they all shared.
Although not very common, sometimes, one does get to see variants of Afternoon Tea that could be classed as ‘Low Tea’ and often don’t contain all the same elements of a full tea.
(1) Cream Tea comprising only of tea, scones, jam and cream
(2) Light Tea with tea, scones and sweets
(3) A Full Afternoon Tea made up of tea, scones, savourites and sweets
What Is Served In A Traditional Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is traditionally served on a three-tiered stand and can serve either one or two people.
The bottom plate usually houses savourites – small sandwiches, open sandwiches and appetizers. Popular Afternoon Tea sandwiches include cucumber, roast beef, Coronation chicken, egg mayonnaise, cheese and pickle, etc.
The middle plate is the home of the scone (a small unsweetened or lightly sweetened cake made from flour and milk), cream and jam
The top plate – my favourite – is like the cherry on the cake. This is where you’ll find all the good things in life – think little cakes, tarts and profiteroles. It’s hard not to drool just thinking about them!
Since it is 2018, however, most establishments have their chefs create their Afternoon Tea with a slightly modern twist to make them a little less traditional and a little more ‘with the times’ and thus, unique to their own brand. Our Afternoon Tea at the Barrister’s restaurant was the perfect mix of traditional and modern. We were served traditional egg mayonnaise, cheese and onion and ham and tomato sandwiches, but were also treated to a hot smoked salmon mousse open sandwich which was very in-keeping with current food trends. Our scones were traditional (as they should be) and so was the little chocolate choux bun, but the cakes were refreshingly contemporary with a raspberry dome with shortbread, a pistachio and chocolate opera cake and a sour apple macaron.
These days, a lot of establishments serve vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free Afternoon Teas, so if you have any special dietary requirements, be sure to call in advance and let them know at the time of / shortly after booking so you don’t spring it on them when you arrive and that they can do their best to accomodate you. The Barrister’s restaurant doesn’t serve vegan Afternoon Teas at this time, but are aiming to start doing so in the near future. They do, however, serve vegetarian and gluten-free options and were happy to present us with vegetarian options for my friend who accompanied me there.
Oh, and before I forget, it is now common practice to drink a glass of Champagne with your Afternoon Tea, so don’t hesitate to order some, if you’re not driving back, of course. I find it makes the whole experience just a little more sparkly, festive and special. PS You’re welcome!
Afternoon Tea Etiquette
There is SO much etiquette surrounding Afternoon Tea, its all a bit ridiculous really. Nobody really follows rules like “Place your tea spoon at the six o’clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o’clock position two or three times”. Aint nobody got time for that. Just be sure to remember a few tips and you’ll be golden:
Napkins on your lap please, this isn’t McDonald’s. Also, use your napkin to dab the corners of your mouth when you’re finished. Oh, and since it is 2018, try to limit yourself to one or two photos max. We were here to do a blog post and review the exeprience so had to take lots of pictures, but overall, we wouldn’t go overboard with the standing up for flatlays and posting six Instagram stories describing the experience. Be fairly quick and then put your phone on silent and then away.
Tea first, milk second. You never add cream to your tea – it is too heavy and masks the taste. Try to stir your tea as quietly as possible, without banging the spoon against the sides of the cup. Remove the tea bag from the cup and place it on your saucer. Do not use the string to wrap around or squeeze the teabag. Do NOT slurp while you’re drinking or pour the tea into your saucer if it’s too hot. Simply wait a few minutes till it cools down and then take small sips.
Please don’t stick your pinky finger out when you lift your teacup. The term “pinkies up” is just that, terminology, and you’ll just look silly and pretentuous or like you’re joking around.
Afternoon Tea is traditionally all finger food, so you’re allowed to use your hands to serve yourself and eat. The only time one would bother with cutlery is when putting cream and / or jam on their scone or stirring tea. In fact, you’d never actually see a fork at Afternoon tea – it is strictly a knife and spoon affair. Work one course at a time, starting at the bottom with the savourites and working your way up to the cakes at the top. Don’t pile too much onto your plate. You can always add more later.
There’s so much controversy surrounding scones – what they are, how to pronounce the word and how to eat them. Let me clear them up for you. (1) The correct pronunciation is ‘skon’ (rhyming with ‘gone’) as opposed to scone (rhyming with ‘bone’).
(2) Fun fact: they are, in fact, a cake and not a biscuit.
(3) The correct way to eat them would be to slice them down the middle horizontally. I cannot stress this enough.
(4) Never dip your knife into the cream or jam directly – they are for the table, not you as an individual. Use a teaspoon to scoop cream and jam onto your plate, then use your knife so slather them onto one half of your scone. Cream first, jam second, as you would with butter and jam on toast. Never, ever, EVER make a jam sandwich out of your scone.
What To Wear To Afternoon Tea
Most things go in this day and age if I’m being honest. But if you ask me, a smart casual dress code is a winner in this scenario, hands down. Personally, I think Afternoon Tea is enjoyed on special occasions and get-togethers with friends and famaily, so putting a little extra effort in is always a plus. However, if you have a million other things to do the same day, like I did, I opted for a casual yet elevated outfit. The pale pink blazer was feminine and gave my casual outfit a little bit of a boost, the heeled boots were a dressier alternative to flats and the beret gave it a current, on-trend vibe and a bit of a nostalgic French feel.
Are you a fan of Afternoon Tea? Share your pictures and experiences with me on Instagram – I’m @WokeWearMCR.