Afternoon Tea - A Brief History Part 2

Afternoon tea should be provided, fresh supplies, with thin bread-and-butter, fancy pastries, cakes, etc., being brought in as other guests arrive.” 
― Isabella BeetonMrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

The practice of taking tea in the afternoon was established, but it was a while before hotels such as Claridges and the Ritz started to offer afternoon teas.

The Langham is credited with being the first hotel in London to offer afternoon tea, opening its doors in 1865. Other hotels did not follow suit until the 1920s.

Whilst gentlemen retreated to clubs, tea rooms offered a place where ladies could meet to take tea and gossip. They were also one of the few places young single women could be seen un-chaperoned. In later years, music was added and so began the age of tea dances, which remained popular up until World War II.

These days, the full afternoon tea experience is a treat reserved for special occasions. Luxury hotels offer a wide range of rare teas and sumptuous cakes and desserts, though sadly no dancing! The cakes have become more elaborate and innovative and, more recently, themed teas have emerged, for example Mad Hatter Tea Parties and Gentlemen’s Teas.

Caked-Teas-Coming-Soon

Afternoon tea has come a long way from its humble beginnings of a small snack between meals. In the next couple of weeks Caked will be launching Caked Teas – afternoon tea brought to your home or event. More information coming very soon!

Afternoon Tea - A Brief History - Part 1

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
Henry James

In a couple of weeks, Caked will be launching a brand new afternoon tea service, and in anticipation I’ll be looking into the etiquette, trends and history of this most British of traditions.

We think of tea as the national drink, but in fact before the 1700s coffee was the favoured hot beverage of the English. It was in coffee shops, not tea rooms or pubs, that people would gather.

When tea arrived on these shores it was seen as a rare medicinal drink, until trade with India brought down the price and turned drinking tea into a sign of class and respectability. But the idea of afternoon tea as a meal didn’t begin until the 1800s.

Surprisingly, we have the increased prominence of affordable gaslight to thank for this. As it became cheaper to light homes, the time of dinner moved fashionably later. This was at a time when it was normal to only have two main meals in the day – breakfast and dinner.

Afternoon tea itself is attributed to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. It is said that because of this later dinnertime, she would get “a sinking feeling” in the afternoon. And so she requested a tray of tea, bread and butter and cakes delivered to her room at 4 o’clock, to see her through to dinner. After some time, Anna started inviting friends to join her for tea in the drawing room of her home at Woburn Abbey.

Eventually this became a widely adopted social event. Every afternoon, upper-class ladies would change into their finery and attend tea, which consisted of dainty sandwiches and small morsels of cake served with Indian or Ceylon varieties served in bone china cups.

Afternoon-Tea-Table-2

I’ll be continuing this history in my next post, when I’ll be looking at how hotels adopted afternoon tea and turned it into the decadent and elaborate ritual we know today.

And look out for more information coming soon on Caked Teas!