History Of Afternoon Tea
Tea consumption increased dramatically in England during the early nineteenth century and it is around this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have complained of “having that sinking feeling” during the late afternoon. At the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day, breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o’clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot a tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon. Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking the fields.” Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon. The “Ladies Afternoon Tea” was strictly for the ladies and one place where they could gather without wearing their confining corsets.
Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a ‘low’ or ‘afternoon’ tea around four o’clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial ‘high’ tea later in the day, at five or six o’clock, in place of a late dinner. The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.
These traditions spread across the sea to the United States, particularly in Yankee communities. Overall, coffee remained the more popular hot drink but recently there has been renewed interest in taking tea. According to Kathy Krusiec of McFarland, Wisconsin, “When ladies think of teatime, they picture an afternoon set aside for scrumptious ginger sandwiches, cozy conversation and great tea. Afternoon tea shoul be a period of personal indulgence when women forget about counting calories, checking their watch and answering their cell phones. Tea time is ME time!” Kathy’s cookbook, “Taking Time for Tea,” is available at the Larson House Museum and from this website.