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Food & Drink

A guide to afternoon tea

Few things are more “classic British” than an afternoon tea. Surprisingly it’s not actually as old as you may think, having been introduced in the mid 1800s. Whether you’re thinking of splashing out at The Ritz or trying out a more modern take on this quintessentially British tradition, here are a few pointers to help out.

It’s not actually so old

Even though tea has been drunk for many centuries, the concept of afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840. As dinner wasn’t until 8pm, the Duchess used to get hungry in the afternoon so she would ask for bread, butter and cake to be served to her in her room. The idea caught on from there, especially among the upper classes, where the ladies would often dress up in long gowns and hats.

The scone was a later addition

The scone, a dense, flaky pastry served with clotted cream and jam, became a staple in the 20th century.

How to pronounce “scone”?

Although scones have come to symbolize the afternoon ritual, Britons have never agreed on how to pronounce the word. Half would say it rhymes with “gone,” the other half, “bone.”

Which way round with the jam and cream?

Another age-old disagreement around afternoon tea has been on how to apply the condiments. Proponents of “Devon cream tea” spread the cream first, topped with jam. “Cornish cream tea” meanwhile demands jam first, cream on top.

There’s plenty of places to enjoy afternoon tea

Several establishments around London offer the traditional afternoon tea, including Claridges, the Dorchester, the Ritz and the Savoy, as well as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason department stores.

There are modern versions of afternoon tea

If you’re after something a little different, try out the Wolseley – set within a converted car showroom in Piccadilly the beautiful people watching is almost as much fun as the food. Or how about combining a bus sightseeing tour with afternoon tea onboard? B Bakery offers the chance to do just that.

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