Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British luxury consisting of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and, of course, tea in beautiful teapots. It might be considered more of a special occasion luxury these days, but the history of afternoon tea shows that it’s been a staple of British life for almost 200 years. So, who invented the traditional afternoon tea and why is it the perfect 21st century luxury for those special afternoons?
While tea itself had been present in Britain for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that afternoon tea as we recognise it today emerged as a high-class pastime. Sources variously put the date at the late 1830s or early 1840s, but the fact remains that it’s Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford who we have to thank for the traditional afternoon tea!
The Duchess found that she was becoming peckish in the long gap between luncheon and dinner as the evening mealtime was becoming fashionably later. She began inviting her friends to her rooms to enjoy light refreshments incorporating a pot of a tea and a snack. Where the Duchess led, others followed and the practice of taking afternoon tea moved into respectable drawing rooms across the country.
Since tea came with a hefty price tag, it was the preserve of the aristocracy and no household represented that more fully than the Royal Household. Queen Victoria gave the idea of afternoon tea the royal seal of approval and the rest is history.