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The History and Origins of Afternoon Tea: A Fascinating Journey

The History and Origins of Afternoon Tea: A Fascinating Journey
.Considered one of England’s most quintessential customs, it may come as a surprise that afternoon tea is a tradition that is a fairly recent development. Tea drinking customs originated in China during the third millennium BC, but gained popularity in England when King Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, influenced the English people. Whilst tea drinking has always been known as a way of British life, it was during the mid-19th century that afternoon tea became popular. Whilst afternoon tea is a popular pastime today, read on to find out more about the history of afternoon tea and what has made this pleasant custom so popular. 

The Beginnings of Afternoon Tea

In 1840, it was traditional for lunch and dinner to be served at specific times of the day – something that the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Marie Russell, had trouble with. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, Anna would start feeling hungry – however, the timing of dinner was around 8 o’clock and the gap between the two was enough for Anna to need something in between. She would ask for a tray of bread and butter, cake and tea to be brought up to her room during the late afternoon. Soon enough, this became routine for the Duchess – so much so that she started to invite her friends around to join her. This became a prevalent practice for many upper-class women to take part in, wearing long gowns, hats and gloves to their afternoon tea. It was usually served between 4 and 5 o’clock in the evening.  During the summer months, ladies would take their afternoon tea outside to enjoy the summer weather, which prompted the gentlemen to take part in the tradition. At the time, tea was considered a delicacy only the wealthiest could afford. Having afternoon tea outside was an opportunity to flaunt that they could afford it – some even had their portrait painted with fine china and tea!

What did Afternoon Tea Consist of?

One of the most prominent items on the menu (which we still include today), was cucumber sandwiches. Most of what was on the menu is still there today, with most restaurants, hotels and cafes offering a very traditional afternoon tea. This may include small sandwiches with a wide number of fillings and savoury pastries, alongside sweet cakes, scones with cream and jam and of course – tea! If you’re looking at a traditional Victorian experience for your afternoon tea, we’d recommend including a glass of sherry or claret. For sandwiches, you could consider anchovies, beef tongue or even sardines! Of course, there’s no afternoon tea without the cake. Lords and ladies loved an excuse for extra tea and cake throughout the day – a seed cake was the sweet of choice, alongside almond and Madeira cakes. And we can’t forget the classic Victoria Sponge, which Isabella Beeton quoted as being ‘seasonable at any time.’

Afternoon Tea Today

Today, afternoon tea is saved for a special occasion. It has gained popularity with friends and family looking to celebrate an occasion or catch up with friends in a calm and relaxing environment. Of course, some also take the opportunity to have afternoon tea at home. Afternoon tea is the perfect way to unwind and destress, whilst catching up with friends and family. The menu of afternoon tea barely differs from that of the 1840s – however, in Victorian times, afternoon tea was something light before dinner. Nowadays, it can be something greater and more fulfilling, depending on what type of afternoon tea you go for. 

Afternoon Tea at The Boars Head

The fascinating history behind afternoon tea has given us what it is today. At The Boars Head, we offer afternoon tea in our glorious hotel bar, so you can stay with us and relax in a luxurious style! With sandwiches, cakes and an English Breakfast tea, there’s no better way to spend your weekend or holiday. We serve our afternoon tea from Thursday to Saturday, 2 – 5 pm from just £16.50pp! If you’d like to find out more about what we have to offer, contact us today or you can book a table for you and your family or friends. We’ll see you there!
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Allergens and Intolerance

This website is to be used as a a best faith effort to inform you of our allergen and intolerance policy,  and may not be 100% accurate, or may be out of date at the time of reading, you should always advise your server on any dietary requirements, including intolerance & allergies. All our dishes are prepared in our kitchens where allergens are present. We therefore cannot guarantee that all our dishes are free from traces of allergens.

You must assess your own level of risk, based on your personal circumstances before consuming any of our food or drink.