The History of Afternoon Tea: A Timeless Tradition with an Important Kudo to Portugal

The History of Afternoon Tea: A Timeless Tradition

Picture yourself in a cozy tearoom, surrounded by exquisite china, delicate sandwiches, warm scones with clotted cream and jam, and, of course, a steaming pot of your favorite tea. Afternoon tea is a beloved ritual that has captured the hearts of tea enthusiasts and food lovers worldwide for centuries. But do you know how this delightful tradition came to be? Join me on a journey through time as we delve into the fascinating history of afternoon tea, from its origins to its evolution into the cherished practice we know today.

The story of afternoon tea dates back to 19th-century England, and it’s often associated with Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. In the early 1800s, it was customary for people in Britain to have only two main meals a day – breakfast and dinner. With dinner typically served late in the evening, the Duchess felt hungry and lazy in the late afternoon. To combat this afternoon slump, she requested a light meal and some tea to be served in her private chambers.

The Duchess soon began inviting friends to join her for these afternoon gatherings, and the idea quickly caught on among the English elite. It became a fashionable social event, and the tradition of afternoon tea was born. It allowed the aristocracy to gather, enjoy refreshments, and engage in social conversation.

The Portuguese Influence:

While Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is often credited with popularizing afternoon tea in England, we must also recognize the influence of Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese queen who married King Charles II of England in 1662. Catherine brought a love for tea, a well-established tradition in Portugal. She introduced the English court to the habit of drinking tea, including the addition of milk, and it soon became a fashionable beverage among the nobility.

Tea became a status symbol and a sign of sophistication, and the English gradually developed their unique tea-drinking customs. Thanks to Catherine’s influence, tea became a quintessentially English tradition.

The Evolution of Afternoon Tea:

Over the centuries, afternoon tea has evolved in various ways. During the Victorian era, elaborate tea parties became common, featuring an array of delicacies, including finger sandwiches, scones, cakes, and pastries. The tradition of serving tea with milk became firmly established during this period.

In the 20th century, afternoon tea continued to evolve. It adapted to changing lifestyles and preferences, with tea rooms and hotels offering a variety of themed teas, such as “high tea” or “cream tea.” High tea, often enjoyed by the working class, included heartier fare like meat pies and savory dishes, while cream tea focused on scones with clotted cream and jam.

Today, afternoon tea remains a growing tradition that people of all backgrounds and cultures enjoy. It has even found its way into contemporary settings, with creative variations and modern twists on classic recipes.

The history of afternoon tea is a rich tapestry that weaves together the stories of royalty, tradition, and evolving tastes. From the Duchess of Bedford’s early afternoon reprieve to the influence of Portuguese queens like Catherine of Braganza, afternoon tea has come a long way. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of a warm cup of tea, delightful pastries, and the simple joy of sharing moments with loved ones. So, the next time you sit down for afternoon tea, remember the centuries of history and culture that have brought this cherished tradition to life.





  1. Terri on March 16, 2024 at 12:34 am

    I appreciate your in-depth research and passion for tea. Whether it’s been a tea party with a tiny toy set shared with my children or a dreamy afternoon tea at a fancy hotel, each time feels perfect. Knowing the history now brings an extra special element to the table ( cup).

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