Tea Time | Mihika Juneja
Afternoon tea is a timeless and classic ritual, consisting of the robust drink, along with fancy trays full of decadent sides. Given the aesthetic appeal of it all, many luxury hotels recreate the feasting experience for tourists as they reap the benefits. The custom is typically associated with the British, perhaps related to the British East India Company’s monopoly on the tea industry many years ago. However, how did the association of the British with tea lead to the idea of afternoon tea?
According to Historic UK, the concept was courtesy of the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna, in 1840. Like many of us today, the Duchess would find herself hungry between the hours of lunch and dinner. Now naturally, we turn to any morsel we can find, but the life of the Duchess was peculiar. In the 19th century, royalty in any hierarchical position were treated exquisitely. Keeping this in mind, it only makes sense that she enjoyed the finest of snacks, all per her request. Specifically, she demanded a tray of tea, the classic bread and butter which later got upgraded to a sandwich, and cake. The snack was substantial to keep her satisfied, and she took part in this snacking ritual under certain conditions. The Duchess would invite her friends to revel in the calming moment of their day.
Imagining the scene, you may picture it as women, dressed in fancy clothing and silk gloves all seated in a garden sipping tea from fine porcelain cups, pinkies in the air. By the 1800’s, this was the picture of afternoon tea. Soon enough, the bourgeoisie and higher were spending an hour of each day relishing in the very drink that fueled the economy of the British Empire. The common reason for afternoon tea was associated with the desire for a gathering, food, and an afternoon pick-me-up.
In order to engage in this afternoon indulgence in a similar way, there aren’t many rules. Nonetheless, the historical way of afternoon tea may feel every bit more special. The afternoon tea menu, should you wish to recreate, consists of light finger sandwiches, and various pastries, like scones and petit fours. The polished look of these treats alone are enough to brighten anyone’s day, but the tea selection is crucial as well. To offset the sweetness of the baked delicacies, the most common of the tea selection is a silky Earl Grey, which is key to the afternoon caffeine dose as well. Another common is English Breakfast. A trend is seen amongst the teas: the proper afternoon tea is rich, bitter, and flavorful, perhaps paralleling conversations of the time.
Where are these teas imported from, is a thought to consider for further information. Adding to the deep history of afternoon tea, and similar to times of the British East India Company, it is found that these teas are grown in India and Ceylon, poured into the daintiest of cups.
Through viewing the quality and meticulous aspects of this ritual, it is clear that “afternoon tea time” serves not only as a way of appreciating the elegant days of the royal woman, but also as an ode to the history of the British Empire.