Updated: Oct 29
Mention “the afternoon tea party” and you conjure up visions of scenes out of a Bronte sisters’ novel, a Victorian-era theatrical performance or a movie set in an outpost of the British Empire.
Those who follow the antics and exploits of the British Royal Family would think of the Queen’s annual afternoon tea party on the lawns behind Buckingham Palace.
The afternoon tea party has its origins in Great Britain of the mid-1800s. The term “tea” had previously been used for the light, early evening meal in the days when the main meal of the day “dinner” was served at midday or early afternoon.
From about 1850 onwards, the midday meal became a lighter “lunch,” dinner – still the main meal of the day – moved to the evening. To further confuse the meal naming issue, some people referred to dinner as supper, others continued to call it tea. Others had a light tea before dinner which could be moved to a later time in the evening.
There was a class distinction to the terminology. The upper classes would call the midday meal lunch and the evening meal dinner if formal and supper if informal.
In many parts of the United Kingdom, the early evening meal was called “high tea” so named because it was a sit-down meal at a “high” or dining table whereas tea would be served at a “low” or coffee table in a lounge, sitting room or depending on the weather, on a porch or verandah.
Gradually tea became a light mid or late afternoon meal of tea the beverage and pastries, biscuits (cookies), scones, cake or other snacks.
The Afternoon Tea
The customary time for afternoon tea is between 3:30 and 5:00 pm. The first ever afternoon tea is believed to have been held by Anna Marie, Duchess of Bedford during a visit to Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, England.
The upper classes of British society soon adopted the afternoon tea habit. Its popularity spread to the middle classes, to the most distant corners of the British Empire and other European countries.
It became a popular way to entertain others of similar social standing with less formality than a dinner party. In a period when the number of house servants employed in large houses was in decline, it was easier for the mistress of the house to arrange.
Afternoon teas still conform to the levels of the social strata. Tea served in plain white china cups (or God forbid a disposable paper cup) with a sandwich or small scone with a dab of strawberry jam, is the typical fare found in cafes and tearooms.
At the other end of the scale, tea served in upmarket hotels – and formerly prestige department store restaurants – is a much more sumptuous event. These would include a range of teas to drink and thinly cut bread sandwiches, scones with cream or butter and jam, muffins and cakes.
The Afternoon Tea Party
The afternoon tea party had it’s origins in British stately homes when a team of servants would arrange tables and chairs on the lawn. A full kitchen staff would prepare an array of sandwiches carefully prepared with thin slices of bread from which the crusts had been excised with surgical precision. Fillings would be either cucumber slices or egg and watercress. A succession of serving maids would constantly replenish the supply of sandwiches and other tasty treats. Scones with cream and jam, muffins, various cakes, crumpets and canapes were all popular.
Traditionally, the only beverage served was black tea, generally a lighter blend than a traditional English Breakfast tea. Our Angel Earl Grey would be the ideal choice for the perfect afternoon tea party.
Over time, it became acceptable for green and white tea to be served. In South Africa and now in many countries, Rooibos is the tea of choice. Herbal tisanes have also come of age and can be served for afternoon tea without causing the raised eyebrows that would have been the case in the Victorian era.
A more recent innovation has been the serving of champagne or light wine. No doubt beer and spirits are finding their way onto afternoon tee tables to the horror of the traditionalists.
The Afternoon Tea Party in 2020
There are two main avenues for enjoying an afternoon tea party in 2020:
Organize a private tea party yourself
Book a table at a hospitality establishment
We have given you enough information already for you to arrange a private tea party.
Visiting a restaurant or hotel provides you with endless opportunities to enjoy afternoon tea alone or with a group of friends. It’s a simple matter to visit a café or tearoom. However, to enjoy the perfect afternoon tea you need to book a place at a high-end hospitality venue that specializes in superbly catered afternoon teas.
For residents in South Western Ontario, Canada, we recommend our Bed & Breakfast, Chateau la Motte Guest House’s, monthly afternoon teas for 25 guests. You can book for yourself or a group of friends.
Note: Currently only for 10 guests.
That is how you can ensure you have all the ingredients for the perfect afternoon tea; High-quality teas, exquisite snacks, refined service, a beautiful venue and most importantly - good companions.
Book a place at the next afternoon tea or order a selection of our teas today and arrange your own.