Afternoon tea

In Britain tea is seen as a universal panacea for all ills, and the British love nothing better than 'putting their feet up' and enjoying a 'cuppa'. The quiet gentility of the English tea ceremony is seen as a reflection of the reserved national character.

Tea was first introduced to the British Isles in the mid-17th century, and for over a century its popularity did not match coffee. At first it was highly taxed and very expensive, but it soon began to gain in popularity. The tradition of afternoon tea, when tea was served at 4pm with cakes, savouries and sweets, was started by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 and has remained popular ever since.

The British institution of the tea shop owes its origin to one woman, the manager of the Aerated Bread Company, who began serving cups of tea to her favoured customers in 1864. Tea shops rapidly spread throughout the land, owing much of their popularity to the fact that they were 'safe' places for unchaperoned women to meet.

Serving Tea

If serving tea for a group it is worth brewing a pot. Loose leaf tea will taste best. A second pot with hot water in it should be provided in order to dilute over-brewed tea if necessary. If a waiter places a teapot on the table without pouring the tea the person nearest the pot should pour for everyone.

The tea should be poured first and any milk, lemon or sugar added afterwards. Once you have stirred your tea remove the spoon from the cup and place it on the saucer.

When drinking tea hold the handle of the teacup between your thumb and forefinger. Don't hold your little finger in the air.

Don't dunk your biscuits in your tea unless in a very informal setting, and don't make slurping noises - even if it is hot.

If you are served a scone with jam and clotted cream with your 'cream tea', bear in mind that the most practical way of consuming it is to split the scone in half, spread the jam first, then add clotted cream on top. This pragmatic method is favoured by the people of Cornwall, but it is thought that in Devon the practice is to spread the clotted cream first.

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