Tips from Tom: Uncovering English Afternoon Tea

Tom Ritchings is a Student Services Coordinator in the ISA London Office. Tom works with students who are studying abroad in London, Reading, and Scotland.

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Photo by ISA student Shannon Rinn in London, England

Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten in London between 3pm and 5pm. After finding herself unsatisfied between meals Anna, seventh Duchess of Bedford, established afternoon tea in 1840. Once Queen Victoria took up the engagement, it became a customary part of society. A typical afternoon tea consists of sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries, cakes and most importantly a pot of tea. Afternoon tea was taken to bring you up between breakfast and dinner, but also as an opportunity to socialize and gossip.

The tradition has faded somewhat; full afternoon tea is mainly reserved for special occasions and “posh” people. Taken at a hotel or restaurant is considered a great tradition and luxury. At home we tend not to include all the accompaniments; we are more likely to have a scone and tea, or cake and tea. I often come home from work and have tea and cake, then dinner around 8pm. Lunch has not long been an established meal; the rise of lunch saw the demise of the full blown afternoon tea. The British still greatly enjoy afternoon tea; unfortunately it is now difficult to fit into their busy schedules, but it remains an essential part of British culture.