Anne, Duchess of Bedford, was one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. It’s Anne who is credited for “inventing” Afternoon Tea. But many claim the event simply evolved over time.
As the story goes, like this. It was during these early days of Queen Victoria’s reign, that the time between lunch and dinner was widening. Anne began asking for tea and small cakes to be brought to her private quarters in mid-afternoon to stave off her hunger between meals.
It wasn’t long before she began inviting other ladies to her private tea in the hopes of learning the latest gossip, which of course she would share with the Queen.
After the death of her beloved Albert, Queen Victoria was encouraged to host her own ladies tea as a means to re-enter the social society and entertaining. It wasn’t long before her Afternoon Tea parties became exceptional and elegant events.
Legend has it that Victoria Sponge was named and served at her tea parties which became large affairs. Other women picked up the idea and it spread like wildfire. Right along with a special language to describe the type of tea to be held and when it was to be served.
- Cream Tea —
A simple tea service consisting of scones, clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd and tea.
- Elevensies —
Morning coffee hour in England (I remember the Hobbits used this term in Lord of the Rings. I thought that they ate 11 times a day…just like me!)
- Afternoon Tea —
What we imagine all British teas to be. An afternoon meal, served typically from 4 – 6 pm, which includes the tiers of smart little crustless sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, 2-3 sweets and heaps of tea.
- Low Tea—
This is still an afternoon tea, but called “low tea” because guests are seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.
- Royale Tea —
A social tea served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea.
- Celebration Tea —
Another variation of afternoon tea with a celebratory cake which is also served alongside the other sweets
- High Tea —
High tea is eaten in “high chairs” at the dinner table. It actually is a meal that the working class had at the end of the day with cold meats, potatoes, as well as other foods with tea and perhaps a beer.
Most Americans confuse High and Low Tea. The confusion is also promoted by some London tea houses who use the terms interchangeable to keep tourists happy.
If you wish to learn more about the tea ritual, Jane Pettigrew is an acknowledged tea expert, with a deep passion for sharing the love of tea around the world. She has published many books, including the Social History of Tea.
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