What is Afternoon Tea?

faq, tea -

What is Afternoon Tea?

We get many questions at Char about our Winchester Afternoon Tea, and how an Afternoon Tea differs from a Breakfast Tea. In order to fully answer this, we are outlining the origins of the practise of Afternoon Tea, traditional decorum for participating in an Afternoon Tea, and how to hold your own Afternoon Tea party.

The History of Afternoon Tea

Tea has been consumed at all times of day and night since the 3rd millennium BC in China. In England, tea only became popular in 1660 under the influence of Queen Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II (to both of whom Char have devoted Afternoon Tea blends of tea in gratitude). Between these times and beyond, some of those cups of tea must logically have been consumed in the afternoon.

However, time of day is not the sole qualifier for the sophisticated ritual that is Afternoon Tea.

The practise of taking tea alongside light snacks to ease the period between meals began in 1840 when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, grew hungry at around 4pm. The fashion of the time dictated that the evening meal be served at 8pm, and so the ritual of taking tea with sandwiches and cakes began. As habit became pleasure, the Duchess invited friends to join her for her ‘afternoon tea’. Naturally, these friends were high in society and, as a result, the practise of taking Afternoon Tea quickly became associated with class, elegance, and indulgence for refined persons. As a result, it also became embellished with etiquette – invisible and unspoken rules to preserve distinction of rank amongst those who would assume equality.

The British Tradition of Afternoon Tea

Nowadays, this has thankfully lessened. Afternoon Tea is a practise open for all to enjoy, but still often holds special significance and formality. It is, after all, Britain’s closest equivalent of a tea ceremony.

Afternoon Tea Etiquette for Beginners

If you find yourself fortunate enough to partake of this ritual, here are some helpful tips for enjoying an Afternoon Tea with excellent etiquette. Firstly, you will need to know what you are ordering, so here are some terms you may come across which all fall under the banner of Afternoon Tea, and their differences.

Afternoon Tea vs Cream Tea vs High Tea

Afternoon tea table layout with luxury sandwiches and tea

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon Tea is the term used to refer to tea served alongside finger foods such as sandwiches without crusts, scones, and sweet treats such as cakes or macarons. The tea traditionally served is delicate, most often Darjeeling tea. This typically is a casual affair by comparison to High Tea, served on sofas and armchairs instead of at a table, but on particularly special occasions can be turned into a ‘sparkling’ or ‘champagne’ Afternoon Tea.

cream tea with scone, clotted cream and jam

What is Cream Tea?

Cream Tea is often used interchangeably with Afternoon Tea. The distinction between the two lies in the presence of scones served with clotted cream and jam. Unlike Afternoon Tea, there is some dispute regarding where and when the practise of Cream Tea originated, and there are slight variations of custom depending on whether you take your scones in the Cornish fashion (jam placed firstly on the scone, followed by clotted cream) or the way of Devon (clotted cream, followed by jam). Allegedly, our late Queen took her scones according to Cornish tradition, if you are uncertain which to try first.

Cream Tea is accepted, however, to be more modern than Afternoon Tea, with references dating from the 1930s in The Cornishman. Regardless of its origin, most of England will attest that it is difficult to best a cup of tea and a scone.

High tea 

What is High Tea?

High Tea, as the name suggests, is served ‘higher’ – i.e. at a table. This contains more substantial foods such as cold meats, pies, perhaps small burgers, alongside a strong black tea such as Assam or Ceylon tea. Alternatively, alcohol may be served.

What Makes the Best Tea for Afternoon Tea?

Whether you are having an Afternoon Tea, Cream Tea, or High Tea, Char’s Winchester Afternoon is a fabulous choice due to its unique blend of Darjeeling and Assam teas.

What to Wear to Afternoon Tea, and Other Useful Tips

Now that you are acquainted with what you are preparing for, here are some pieces of advice and good practices to follow when enjoying Afternoon Tea.

Dress appropriately for your venue. An Afternoon Tea at an extravagant hotel in London is a rather different affair than your local café. Dress accordingly.

Many venues will provide a sand timer alongside your pot of tea which will signal the correct brewing time for your tea. As Char customers will know, brewing time is an incredibly important factor in having a beautiful cup of tea, so keep an eye on your timer.

If you are given milk alongside your tea, the choice of whether to pour milk or tea first is entirely your own. Historically, pouring milk first was a precautionary step to avoid damaging bone China cups with a shock of hot tea, but this is unlikely to be an issue you will encounter.

If your teapot is served with a strainer alongside, do not forget to place it over your cup before you pour – leaves in one’s teeth is not an elegant look!

There is no shame in drinking tea with sugar, just make sure you stir it sufficiently to dissolve it.

When stirring your tea, less arm movement is preferable, and tilting the spoon gently away from you and towards you will achieve the same goal as a circular stir, but with less risk of splashing. Holding the spoon a few inches above the cup, one firm downwards flick of the wrist will remove excess droplets of tea. Do not, however tempted you may be, pretend your spoon is a magic wand. In this writer’s extensive practical research, this has been frowned upon at all venues. Simply place the spoon gently onto the saucer, and your tea is ready to drink.

Typical etiquette rules apply when drinking your tea – elbows tucked in and off the table (if there is one), slurping is to be kept to a minimum, do not stare at your companions in an attempt to make them snort tea out of their noses. The usual.

Food is eaten on a scale of savoury to sweet. Sandwiches first, followed by scones, and cakes last of all.

If, as many are, your Afternoon Tea is served with scones, do not use your knife to separate the top and bottom of the scone. Gently break them apart with your hands. This minimises the amount of crumbs produced.

Hopefully, this guide will help you ready yourself for an afternoon of quintessentially British delight. We have covered a lot of ‘rules’ here, but remember that this is an experience that is your own to enjoy as you wish, and if you forget something or choose to ignore the spoon etiquette, a true Brit will be far too polite to judge.

Buy the Best Afternoon Tea Online at Char Teas UK

If you wish to hold your own Afternoon Tea, Char’s Winchester Afternoon is an outstanding blend of Darjeeling and Assam teas – an excellent choice for a decadent event. Alternatively, you could honour Queen Catherine of Braganza and impress your guests with your knowledge of tea history as you pour for them!