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  • Writer's pictureAleksandra Bubnova

ROYAL TRADITION OR THE ART OF AFTERNOON TEA

Afternoon Tea is one of the most festive and atmospheric ceremonies that best reflect the elegance and grandeur of England's tea traditions. Luxurious porcelain tea sets, aesthetically presented appetizers on graceful tiers, pleasant conversations, and, of course, fragrant teas. And it all began with a simple habit...


History of the Afternoon Tea Tradition

THE HISTORY OF THE TRADITION


The originator of the Afternoon Tea tradition is considered to be Duchess Anna Bedford, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. In the early 19th century, it was customary in England to have dinner at 8-9 in the evening, no earlier. The Duchess often felt a slight hunger between lunch and late dinner. To keep her energy up, Anna would request a cup of tea and a small sandwich or some treats (biscuits, pastries, cake) to be brought to her boudoir. Initially, the Duchess was afraid her habit would seem silly. However, this custom was appreciated first by Anna's close associates, whom she started inviting for tea, and it seamlessly integrated into the established lifestyle of British aristocracy. Eventually, it spread throughout Britain, earning the name "Afternoon Tea."


LUXURY AND THE DESIRE FOR TEA


But enjoying tea remained a privilege of the upper and middle classes until the late 18th century; luxury imported from China with silk and porcelain. In the 19th century, tea was even kept under lock and key in tea caddies. As the popularity of tea grew in the country, so did the popularity of all the associated equipment: Chinese porcelain teacups, teapots, trays, and so on. English furniture makers rushed to profit from this market, producing special tea tables and chairs.


Afternoon Tea Tradition and aristocracy

Afternoon tea became an important social opportunity for women and, equally important, a way to demonstrate their fashionable manners and expensive "tea trinkets." Setting up a tea table with a complete set of luxurious tea equipment and tableware gradually became an ambition for middle-class women who sought to showcase their wealth and manners. Exquisite porcelain, beautiful presentation, and a fashionable beverage made tea gatherings a symbol of belonging to the elite layers of society.


Daily afternoon tea became a common practice. For the working class, it was a wonderful midday snack. For the upper classes, it was an elegant ceremony, a social conversation, and a status symbol. Friends, relatives, and acquaintances were often invited to it. A daily tea reception was held in at least one household. Thanks to tea and the wonderful Afternoon Tea tradition, the British constantly socialized with each other, keeping up with all the latest events.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II'S FAVORITE TEA

AND HER MAJESTY'S ETIQUETTE


It is said that afternoon tea was Queen Elizabeth II's favorite meal, and she rarely skipped it. Her constant favorite was refreshing Earl Grey black tea with a touch of milk and no sugar. The Queen preferred loose-leaf tea, which she poured into a bone china cup through a strainer.


The Queen and Afternoon Tea Tradition

For Queen Elizabeth II's afternoon tea, the menu had to include two sandwiches, and the rolls (plain and fruit) had to alternate flavors daily. The rotation of flavors was so important that Buckingham Palace chefs would call Windsor Castle on Monday mornings to inquire about the flavor of rolls the Queen had the day before, just to ensure they weren't the same.


The full daily menu for afternoon tea was found in the bottom left corner of her book in a red leather binding called "The Royal Menu." There had to be small pastries, anything from mini chocolate éclairs to royal cakes, and large pastries called "slices of cake" so that Her Majesty could take a slice for herself. The largest confections varied from honey and cream sponge to fruitcake and gingerbread. One of her favorites was a chocolate sponge cake.


The Queen Elizabeth enjoying her Afternoon Tea Tradition

The British royal family is known for their commitment to traditions and strict adherence to them. The classic tea ceremony is one of the unshakable associations with British culture and history. However, it is not enough to simply drink tea at a specific time of day; it is important to do it correctly, following a set of specific instructions.


Such rules of tea etiquette had to be learned by Meghan Markle, the future bride of Prince Harry, before meeting Queen Elizabeth II. For example, she learned how to properly hold the tea cup by folding her fingers correctly.


However, the common stereotype that adding milk to tea and holding the cup with two fingers during English tea is sufficient represents only a small part of the nuances that a true member of the British royal family must observe.

  1. Under no circumstances should you pour milk into the cup before the tea. First, tea; then, milk – that's the only way.

  2. To stir the milk, move the spoon only back and forth, from 6 to 12 o'clock, rather than in a circular motion. This will help avoid the sound created when the spoon hits the sides of the cup.

  3. Never blow on the tea to cool it down.

  4. When holding the tea cup, always press down your pinkie finger; it should not point out.

  5. Leaving after drinking just one cup of tea is considered impolite. Ideally, one should have two cups of tea.

  6. If tea is served at a dining table, you should only lift the cup, leaving the saucer on the table.

  7. In the case where tea is served on a low table, and guests are seated in chairs or on a couch, the tea set should be held in hand, and tea should be drunk by lifting the cup and saucer held at chest level.


the manners at the Afternoon Tea Tradition

For Queen Elizabeth, afternoon tea was a time when she could relax and reflect on the day.

To some, tea etiquette may seem very strict and formal, as do many other English traditions, but behind all the restrictions and rules is a striving for perfection.


The English are rightfully considered experts in etiquette and good manners. There is a legend that a nanny once approached English King James I with an unusual request – to make her son a gentleman. The King replied, "I cannot do that! I can make him an earl, but he must make himself a gentleman."

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