Afternoon Tea is an elegant and traditional way to "take tea" which was popularised in the 19th century. Traditionally, afternoon tea consists of very high-quality black "afternoon" teas served alongside a selection of cakes, scones, pastries and sandwiches.
Whilst the food and drink served at afternoon tea is very important; luxury, opulence and a certain degree of showing-off are at the roots of afternoon tea and the very reason for its existence!
Afternoon tea began as a "meal" served at home, but by the middle of the 19th century hotels and tea rooms began to specialise in afternoon tea and to this day afternoon tea is a speciality of these types of venue around the world!
Afternoon tea is not to be confused with high tea, although some use the terms interchangeably (and incorrectly!) Afternoon tea is the refined, elegant experience created as a pastime for the wealthy during the 19th century and now more widely available to all through hotels and tearooms.
"High" tea is entirely different and the name for the all important meal at the end of the working day - enjoyed by the working class and designed to be filling and restorative. In fact, some areas in the UK still refer to the evening meal as "tea" which carries on this tradition.
The establishment of afternoon tea as a pastime has been attributed to Anna, Duchess of Bedford. Whilst tea was often taken in the afternoons by the wealthy classes, it was not served with food. Anna, who decided that the gap between meals served at lunch and dinner (which could be as late as 8pm) was too long, asked for dainty cakes and sandwiches to be served at tea time to break up afternoon.
This caught on with a flash in high society circles and reintroduced "tea time" as a pastime and an opportunity to display wealth and status. The introduction of afternoon tea in hotels and tearooms allowed the wealthy to display this wealth and status in public.
With the increase in commerce and especially tourism centering around the capital, London became the top destination for those who want to experience afternoon tea. It became to popular that afternoon tea can be found at hundreds of venues in London, from five-star hotels to the modern tea room and even supermarket cafes!
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