August 10, 2018

The History of Afternoon Tea

The Original Roots

Although the tradition of drinking tea dates back thousands of years to China, it was popularised by King Charles II and his wife in the 1660’s. However, it was still nearly 200 years before the concept of afternoon tea was first recorded. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, was the original pioneer of this now time-old tradition still practiced today across England. Back then, people would usually just eat two meals a day, breakfast and then a late supper around 8pm. For many of us now this seems like a ludicrous idea and, as it happens, so did Anna. She would become hungry during the afternoon and so began to regularly request a tray of tea, some bread and butter along with cake be sent to her room.

Subsequently, she started inviting her friends to join her at her rooms in Woburn Abbey during the summer and because of its popularity she continued the habit upon her return to London. The trend quickly caught on and evolved from a predominantly outdoor event to an indoor drawing room occasion. Fashionable women from all over began drinking tea with sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

What’s the Difference Between ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Tea?

Afternoon tea is often called ‘high tea’ and this is derived from the difference between high and low tea. ‘Low’ or ‘afternoon’ tea was traditionally served earlier at around 4 o’clock before the upper classes would take to Hyde Park for the highly fashionable promenade held there. Alternatively, middle and lower classes would opt for a ‘high’ tea slightly later between five and six o’clock; this would be more substantial than ‘low’ tea and would often replace a late dinner. The different names of the tea derived from the names of the tables they were served on, with dinner tables usually higher.

The Tea-volution

As afternoon tea continued to become increasingly more popular across the 1880’s due to more people joining the higher ranks of society, it turned from a small social gathering to a full-blown event. Upper-class and society women would pull out all the stops for this little meal by donning long expensive gowns, gloves and hats - it became another place to show off in front of your peers. All this effort made by the women moved the focus away from the food being prepared and more towards the social element of the occasion despite it still be held in the average drawing room.

Afternoon Tea Today

Today, you may still find some version of afternoon tea being consumed. For example many households will sit down with a cup of tea and slice of cake - not an Indian tea specially imported to accompany a delicate selection of pastries, but rather a with a regular tea bag and shop-brought treat. How far we’ve come.

However, should you want to step into the shoes of the traditional upper-classes for a spot of afternoon tea then we offer and authentic experience served daily. In our stunning location set in Warwickshire it’s easy to get to from Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry. Book with us today to avoid disappointment - please call 02476 466174.

Alternatively, extend your stay with us beyond tea by booking a full weekend or more to fully experience to beautiful countryside in which Nailcote Hall is set.