The tradition of afternoon tea, albeit being the most renowned of English customs, is in fact relatively new. Tea was popularized in England by King Charles II and his wife, Catherine de Braganza, in the 1660’s. The birth of afternoon tea however, did not come about for another 100 years.
In 1840, Ana, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford would get hungry by around 4 o’clock every day. Since supper in her household was served at a rather late 8:00pm, she decided she could not go so long without food.
She began to ask that a tray of tea, bread, butter and cakes be brought to her room each day between four and five. This became a daily ritual of hers and she would eventually start inviting friends of hers to join.
Following Anna’s lead, many upper-class women began conducting similar ceremonies. Donning long gowns, gloves and hats, they would gather in their drawing rooms as tea was served.
Today, the traditional afternoon tea of small triangular sandwiches, scones with cream, jams and cakes is less popular.
Most households will serve tea in the afternoon in large mugs with nothing more than some biscuits. Sticking to tradition, the best establishments that have afternoon tea are usually high class restaurants and hotels where the full assortment of goodies are provided.