Friday, March 30, 2012


 Marion Pellicano Ambrose

It was Merry Monarch, Charles II who made tea drinking popular after his Portuguese bride arrived in London with a large chest of tea as part of her dowry. It quickly became the fashion at court and then, as now, what was the rage with the royals became widely popular throughout the nation.

 It wasn’t, however, until 1840 that having a cup of tea became a full-blown ceremony involving cakes and treats, prompted by ‘that sinking feeling’ so often experienced by so many in the middle of the afternoon, when lunch was long ago and dinner is still distant. When this afflicted Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, all those years ago, she broke with convention and asked her staff to bring not just tea to her boudoir, but some bread, butter and cake with it. Understandably, this became a hard habit to break, so she introduced it to her society friends, and before long her idea became an institution.

 And so it remains to this day. It may not involve all the items considered correct for an Edwardian afternoon tea – bread and butter, five kinds of sandwich, oyster vol au vents, chicken cutlets, two creams, four jellies, an ice, and a claret cup – but formal afternoon tea is still a lavish treat, and much Edwardian etiquette remains.

Many of London’s finest establishments observe proper protocol and serve afternoon tea in the traditional manner, and there are no signs of its popularity waning. The Ritz advises booking 12 weeks ahead, and offers perhaps the best sense of Edwardian London, serving 17 types of tea, delicate sandwiches and delectable cakes in the ornate surroundings of The Palm Court.

 As usual, Americans find something wonderful and make it even better! In the US you can enjoy traditional afternoon tea, but it can be themed, served in many designs of tea pots and tea sets, and the assortment of sweets and savories are endless. Still, to have a proper afternoon tea, there should be scones, finger sandwiches, cakes and finger sized tarts and cakes. Clotted cream, lemon curd and jam should be served as well. I enjoy adding mini quiche to my tea menu.

Presenting and enjoying afternoon tea is truly an art, and is a custom I believe everyone should adopt.

“Another novelty is the tea-party, an extraordinary meal in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment.” ~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste


  1. I really miss the tea shops that used to be in our town. It was a great way to celebrate a birthday or just have a quiet visit with a friend. The best was having my daughter's birthday party there and the girls all dressed up in hats, boas and pocketbooks! Someone needs to open up a new tea shop here in Melbourne!!

  2. I do too Bonnie! There are 2 wonderful tea rooms in Mount Dora, but that's quite a drive!