March 20, 2023 3 min read
The tradition of afternoon tea, also known as high tea, is an iconic part of British culture that dates back centuries. The history of afternoon tea is a story of luxury, trade, and social customs that have evolved over time. In this article, we will explore the fascinating origins of afternoon tea, the role tea played in the global economy, and how this beloved pastime continues to flourish in modern society.
Tea is native to China, where it has been cultivated and enjoyed for thousands of years. However, it was not until the 17th century that tea began to be imported to Europe, and it quickly became a valuable commodity. The British East India Company began importing tea from China, and it soon became the most popular drink in England. Tea was expensive and was initially only consumed by the wealthy upper classes.
Tea became so important to the British economy that it was even used as a form of currency. In the early 18th century, tea was sold in bulk to the British government, which then distributed it to merchants and other buyers. This helped establish tea as an important trade commodity and further cemented the economic ties between Britain and China.
The tradition of afternoon tea can be traced back to the early 19th century. At that time, it was customary for the wealthy upper classes to eat two meals a day: breakfast and dinner. The long gap between these meals led to a feeling of hunger in the late afternoon, which was relieved by drinking tea and eating small snacks.
The credit for the invention of afternoon tea is often given to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who is said to have started the practice in the 1840s. She would invite her friends to join her for tea and light refreshments in the late afternoon, and the tradition quickly caught on.
Afternoon tea became a popular social event, especially among the wealthy and upper-middle classes. It was an opportunity for people to socialise and enjoy the luxurious experience of drinking tea and eating delicate pastries, sandwiches, and cakes.
Today, afternoon tea has evolved and expanded to include a wide range of styles and variations. Many hotels and restaurants offer high tea, which is a more elaborate and formal version of afternoon tea. High tea often includes a selection of teas, sandwiches, scones, and pastries served on a three-tiered stand.
Afternoon tea has become a popular pastime for people of all ages and backgrounds. It is now enjoyed in homes, hotels, and tea rooms around the world. Many people see it as a way to escape the stresses of modern life and indulge in a luxurious and relaxing experience.
In conclusion, the history of afternoon tea is a fascinating story of trade, luxury, and social customs. From its origins as a simple afternoon snack to its modern incarnation as a formal event, afternoon tea has become an iconic part of British culture and a beloved pastime around the world. Whether enjoyed with friends, family, or alone, afternoon tea remains a time-honoured tradition that celebrates the pleasures of good company, good food, and good tea.
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