According to British history writers, afternoon tea was introduced in 1840 by Anna the seventh Duchess of Bedford. She became very hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon but dinner was not served until 8 in the evening – to her, a big gap between lunch and dinner. She asked for tea to be delivered to her room along with some bread and butter, the sandwich having been introduced in the 1760’s when the Earl of Sandwich asked for his meat to be put between two slices of bread so as not to interrupt his gambling game!
The Duchess decided to invite her friends along to join her in this little ritual and the afternoon tea increased to not only small sandwiches (cucumber sandwiches were popular then) but scones with clotted cream and jam and cakes too were added to this ‘small’ meal.
Tea in Great Britain was very heavily taxed in the 18th Century and was therefore kept under lock and key! Silver tea caddies fell out of favour in the 19th Century and zinc lined wooden boxes were popular, still locked, usually with a matching spoon. Caddy spoons are very collectible in their own right as well as the tea caddies themselves.
Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714, was a kind-hearted Queen, sister of Mary II, who really enjoyed drinking tea with her friends, Sarah Churchill in particular. Sarah Churchill’s husband of more than 40 years became the first Duke of Marlborough. So maybe afternoon tea was invented earlier than 1840 after all but just not called afternoon tea.
Nowadays afternoon tea at home is usually just a cup of tea from a tea bag and a biscuit, but one can still enjoy a real Afternoon Tea in some hotels and I for one am really looking forward to meeting our editor when we have Afternoon Tea in Edinburgh, the Capital of Scotland.
Editor’s note: I am also very much looking forward to meeting our UK recipe/blogging correspondent when I travel abroad!!