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The Origins of Afternoon Tea


The concept of Afternoon Tea was first created in England, back in 1840. Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, identified the need for a small snack in the late afternoon to tide her over until dinner. Note that dinner in the UK and Europe is more often held later in the evening than in North America. And at this time, Afternoon Tea consisted of light sandwiches, accompanied with tea.

But in the 1880’s, more of a ritual resembling what we know Afternoon Tea to be now, evolved. The wealthy ladies of that time turned it into  more of a celebratory occasion, serving elaborate food offerings on their exquisite china, and using it as a chance to dress up wearing long gowns and beautiful hats. And when the weather was warmer, these events were moved outside for a garden party, which is quite common to see in royal circles to this day. Men are usually participants in the garden tea parties held in England too.

Afternoon Tea or High Tea?

In North America, these terms may be used synonymously, but if you delve deeper you will find they have quite different meanings in England. The term High Tea actually refers to the type of table it was served on, which is more of a high top. And this describes a working class meal typically served between 5-6pm, right when folks got off work and required a more hearty meal.

Another term you may hear is Low Tea. Similar to Afternoon Tea, based on the tables and chairs it is served on — a lower more relaxed chair, for visiting, rather than a higher table for dining.

But High Tea is a term frequently used in Calgary, all over North America and in Australia to refer to a British-inspired Afternoon Tea. Perhaps because people think it refers to a high class affair?

And what about Cream Tea?

Ahh, another tea term to learn. A variation of an Afternoon Tea, but in our opinion, the coziest of all. It consists of a scone, served with cream (Devonshire or Clotted), jam and, of course, tea. Perfect for when you want to “take tea” on your own or with a friend. To eat your scone, you split it in half, then you add the cream and jam — but in what order? That is a great debate! 

Have you heard of Elevenses?

This is a short break taken around, you guessed it, 11am. Another tea time! This is another light tea, often served with biscuits as the British call them, or cookies in North America.

Are you feeling like a “Cuppa” now?