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Afternoon Tea Week

This week we’re celebrating Afternoon Tea Week – Our latest Happy Care Days blog by Kate Ball is all about afternoon tea and its origins!

Afternoon tea is a tradition that is a part of English history. It all started in the 1800’s when Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who, at the time was a close friend of Queen Victoria and a prominent figure within London society, complained of “having that sinking feeling” during the late afternoon.

She wanted something small to satisfy her hunger, nothing too large just something to see her through until dinner time.

From this, the afternoon tea ritual was born. It did however start as a small snack and developed over time to the indulgence it is today.

During the 1880s 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. Then it migrated outside for picnics in the park.

It became an excuse to bring out your best china and each lady would try and outdo the other to present the most elaborate selection of small bites of the highest quality ingredients, both savoury and sweet when it was their turn to host.

Move into the first half of the 1900s and two world wars; quality may have declined due to rationing but people still needed their cuppa! Even soldiers at the Front drank tea! It was thought it kept up morale for both the troops as well as the general population. Recipes changed to inferior ingredients in order that  ‘high teas’ could still be enjoyed even with rationing. Often oats were added to flour to bulk it out.

No longer though was this a social occasion but a British staple, as most families now ate their main meal of the day at lunchtime and had a brew at teatime with cake or maybe a chunk of bread and cheese. Mealtimes became very simple affairs.

I grew up during the 1960/70s: my generation mostly had school dinners, good wholesome cooked meals at lunchtime. 60/70s kids would come home for a tea of bread and jam, home made jam tarts, or cake made by mum.  On a Sunday in my home we would have a lunchtime Sunday roast and mum would freshly bake scones and cakes for Sunday tea. Robinsons strawberry jam and clotted cream… yum! At my grandparents I remember cake and jelly on a Sunday, but also toasting bread on the end of a long handled special fork, a toasting fork, over the open flames of their fire. It was fun.  We had gas fire central heating so we couldn’t do it at home.

I remember mum and I used to have girly days out occasionally,  and at age 14 we went to London to the Ritz Hotel for afternoon tea. It was magnificent! I remember tiny little sandwiches with no crusts,  tiny pastries and cake.  Beautiful teapots and cups and saucers; you could choose your loose leaf tea from a posh box and your tea was poured from the teapot into a tea strainer to catch the leaves.   Everything was glitzy in golds and pinks. The ladies loo was bigger than my bedroom! No paper towels there! They had napkins handed to you by an attendant, and beautiful plush pink armchairs to sit on in front of an enormous mirror.  Everything was luxurious from entrance to exit.  This was a wonderful event I have always remembered.

Today, no longer do people have an afternoon tea as part of their day. It is again, like when I was young, a popular special occasion, but can now be found in your local tea rooms and in hotels all over the country and is affordable depending on where you choose.  The price you have to pay dictates the level of luxury you can expect.  Anything from the quaint Tea Rooms in Bradford-on-Avon, to the Savoy Hotel and the Ritz in London,  and everywhere in between.

It’s a surprising thing to know that the one constant in English history has been our cup of tea. We start our day with it, we may finish our day with it, we celebrate with it, we make it at times of grief or shock or great happiness; night and day, camping in a field, sailing in a boat. It warmed the hearts of our fighting men, it consoles and elates us all. It comes in all types and flavours, in loose leaves or in bags,  even in powder form. During the first World War tea even came in space-saving pellets which dissolved in hot water.

It is our staple drink, whether from a teapot or made directly into a mug.  People drink from a cup and saucer, a china mug or a tin mug, from plastic to paper cups.

No matter the vessel, we are a country who love their tea!  We love dunking our biscuits in it, eating a slice of cake with it, or just kicking back and relaxing with it.

Big question?

Do you warm the teapot or mug before making your cuppa?

Me…..I always warm the pot!!!!