Afternoon Tea Week is our favourite week of the year, it’s an excuse to enjoy and celebrate the quintessentially British tradition of Afternoon tea. Although in reality we at Room Forty revel in and celebrate this venerable tradition every week.
The tradition of taking a little light refreshment to prevent that mid-afternoon post lunch crash has been with us since the middle of the 19th Century.
Allegedly Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford invented the repast, when, rather than wait until 8pm for dinner to be served, she ordered a pot of tea and a tray of sandwiches and cakes to go with it. This developed into inviting her society friends to join her and so the fashion grew.
Even Queen Victoria was taken by the idea and with her endorsement the simple afternoon light meal grew into a lavish and fancy social event, especially in the upper echelons of Victorian society. Thereafter it became popular with all levels of society and there was a steady growth of tea houses throughout the country to cater for demand.
The tradition boomed until after the second world war when it started to decline and reached its lowest ebb in the 1970’s. Fortunately it is reborn and it is now in the flush of a renaissance. Possibly the vogue for ‘small plates’ of treats; tapas, cicchetti, dim sum and mezze, has fuelled its resurgence, that, along with its camp celebration of Britishness, of vintage and resonance with all things kitsch.
There’s a lovely ceremony to Afternoon Tea. It’s like a refined indoor picnic only without the flies, wasps and vagaries of the British weather. Unlike its foreign ‘small plate’ counterparts it also combines savoury and sweet.
We love it. It’s a celebration, a treat. So break out the bunting, borrow your Grannies best china from the display cabinet, put on your pinnie, cut the dainty sandwiches and get baking.
Deciding what to serve is straightforward – neat little sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, plus some dainty cakes. Cupcakes and slices of cake are a no no. And of course, you’ll need a proper pot of tea, preferably loose leaf but tea bags are fine.
However, there are some issues to consider:
Pouring the tea
According to Debretts, the experts on etiquette, if the waiter places the teapot on the table without pouring the tea, it’s the person nearest the pot whose duty it is to pour tea for everyone.
Is it milk or tea first?
This is a matter of hot debate. Personally we always put the tea in first but really it should all depend on the crockery. Vintage bone china needs protecting from the heat of the tea, so in this case it should be milk first.
The scone is an essential element of the afternoon tea but don’t get into a lather about whether it’s ‘scon’, or scone (as in ‘stone’). It’s largely a north/south thing, Northerners say ‘scon’, those further south say scone.
Another scone based dilemma is whether it should be cream (clotted of course and without question) or jam on first? It’s the source of fierce debate between Devon and Cornwall, though logic tells us canny Northerners that our ‘Scons’ need the jam on first (ever tried spreading jam on a mound of clotted cream?
Ham is traditional, but should it be smoked or plain, roast or boiled? Should it be served with mustard? And if so what type – English, French, Dijon, wholegrain? On brown, white or granary bread? And that’s just one sandwich option. When you start to factor in cheese (just how many types are there?) or eggs (sliced, mashed with mayonnaise or salad cream, with cress or watercress) or tuna or salmon or indeed the classic cucumber.
Then there’s the cut. Crusts on or off? Cut into triangles or squares. Or rectangles? Her Majesty apparently prefers rectangles.
Whatever you do, just have fun and celebrate! Call your friends, dig out a nice tablecloth, cut your favourite sandwiches, buy or bake your favourite cakes but do serve it on fine bone china (pick some up from a charity shop) it makes all the difference.
Alternatively just call us at Room Forty. We are a mobile afternoon tea emporium. We make and bake everything, deliver to your home or venue, dress the venue, serve on fine vintage china with crisp vintage tablecloths and napkins and then clean up. We are consistently 5 Star rated on Google, Facebook and Trip Advisor and would love to make your event fabulous!
The Room Forty perfect scone
Here’s our recipe for the perfect scone and this recipe has pedigree, it was given to us by the lovely John Whaite, winner of Great British Bake Off Series III
- 450g self raising flour
- 75g butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- 200ml milk
- Preheat the oven to 220C (200 fan oven) and grease two trays.
- Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs
- Add in the baking powder and sugar and mix
- Break the eggs and add the milk to the eggs in a separate bowl or jug, take a couple of tablespoons of the mixture out to glaze the scones at the end
- Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones and bring all together into a sticky ball
- Pop it onto the worktop and using a bit of flour to stop it sticking, roll it out to 3 or 4 cm thick. Use a cutter to cut straight down then back up – never twist the cutter or the scones won’t rise properly.
- Roll up any unused dough and repeat until it is all used up
- Brush the tops (not the sides) with the egg/milk mixture and pop them in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes
- Lift out and tap a scone on the bottom, when ready they will sound slightly hollow and the base will be golden
- Cool on a wire rack covered with a tea towel to stop them going hard
Find out more about Room Forty and book in at www.roomforty.co.uk