I’ve been writing about tea for a while now, and I’ve learned quite a few things during that time. But there are probably as many – or more – things I still don’t know. Like, for example, what is cream tea? Until I decided to write this article, I’d always assumed it was tea with cream added, though to be fair it wasn’t a matter I gave much thought.

English Luxury Clotted Cream (ETS image)

English Luxury Clotted Cream (ETS image)

If you already know about cream tea, then of course you know that it’s not quite that simple. I’ve never been a fan of the word tea used in the sense of a meal or snack served with tea. My definition of tea is that it’s something that you drink, not something you eat. But that sort of thing has been going on for a while now, and I don’t get to make the rules, so I’ll just have to live with it.

Cream tea, as far as I can tell, is along the same lines as afternoon tea – though I certainly claim no expertise in the matter. It is apparently served most often with scones, clotted cream, and jam, though the specifics of how this is all done apparently vary from region to region. Here are some thoughts on how they do things in Devon versus how they do it in Cornwall. It seems that one of the key sticking points has to do with whether cream should go on the scone before jam or vice versa. Here’s another report on the disagreement.

As to who did all of this cream tea stuff first, well, that’s apparently another matter of some controversy. As an article in the British press a few years back noted, Devon and Cornwall are at odds over various aspects of the cream tea experience. As the article noted, “the precise origin of the cream tea is disputed, though historians have found evidence that a tradition of eating bread with cream and jam existed at Tavistock abbey in Devon during the 11th century.”

But what about perfect cream tea? In the years that I’ve been writing about tea, I’ve written quite a few times about the persistent myth that there are steps you can take to assure a perfect cup of tea. Well, as it turns out, a mathematics professor – of all things – at the University of Sheffield announced a little while back that she’d come up with “a formula for the perfect cream tea.” There is math involved, so beware, but you can read all about it here or watch Dr. Cheng’s YouTube video.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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