Afternoon tea, that most quintessentialof English customs is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively new tradition. Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millenniumBC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II, it was not until the mid 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o'clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o'clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
This pausefor tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880's upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o'clock.
Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of daintysandwiches, sconesserved with clotted cream. Cakes and pastriesare also served. Tea grown in India or Ceylonis poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.