Before the British introduction of afternoon tea, tea was already an established beverage with its own cultural practices in France. There is evidence dating back to the early 17th century that France was consuming tea as early as 1636 when the Dutch East India Company delivered tea to the court of Louis XIII.
For an extended period, tea was not accessible to the general public; rather, it was a luxury reserved for the upper classes. This is evidenced in the court of Louis XIV, who was known to enjoy afternoon tea around 5 o’clock with his Queen Marie Antionette ( we now know what she was drinking with her cake). This practice became known as “the five o’clock” and was a popular pastime amongst the nobility, who indulged in various teas and accompanying sweet treats.
The French also had their unique version of afternoon tea named “the goûter.” An afternoon snack, “the goûter,” typically consisted of a cup of tea and a small snack, usually a pastry or cake, accompanied by friends and conversation with occasional music.
The enjoyment of tea increased significantly in the late 18th century when the East India Company established tea plantations in India and began exporting tea to France. Unfortunately, this coincided with the French Revolution, where customs considered upper crusty was quickly and violently squelched or hidden. Thus, this delightful ritual died out for a period in France. Tea consumption eventually became widespread, reappearing in Britain with a bang, whereas they claimed the erroneous title of the afternoon tea capital. Not to worry; the French would go on to develop their distinctive and unique tea-drinking culture.
So, as you can see, the France had its own version of afternoon tea long before the British introduction and appropriation of the custom.
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