SOME FACTS ABOUT AFTERNOON TEA
Contrary to popular belief it is a
little known fact that tea first arrived in Paris in 1636 (22 years before it
appeared in England!) and quickly became popular among the aristocracy! Tea was
so popular in Paris that Madame de Sévigné, who chronicled the life of Louis XIV
in a notorious series of letters to her daughter, often referred to the drinking
"Saw the Princesse de Tarente who takes 12 cups of tea every day... which, she
says, cures all her ills. She assured me that Monsieur de Landgrave drank 40
cups every morning. 'But Madame, perhaps it is really only 30 or so.' 'No, 40.
He was dying, and it brought him back to life before our eyes.'...
Madame de Sévigné also reported that it was a Frenchwoman, the Marquise de la
Sablière, who initiated the fashion of adding milk to tea. "Madame de la
Sablière took her tea with milk, as she told me the other day, because it was to
her taste." (By the way, the English delighted in this "French touch" and
immediately adopted it.) Even the Sun King himself was reported to enjoy the
partaking of tea. And so throughout France today we can still see this tradition
in the form of Salon de Thés throughout the land and in most of the big cities
in a very grandiose form where exquisite pastries and the famous sugar macaroons
are served with real tea-leaf teas; the most famous of them, such as Fauchons,
being in Paris.
Afternoon Tea in its more formal sense is said to have been invented in England
by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 when she decided that eight hours was more
than one woman should reasonably be expected to wait for her dinner, and
instructed her butler to bring tea, bread and butter to her boudoir at 5pm.
Finding all this very agreeable, she began to invite her friends to join her for
‘tea‘. Her guests would gossip and chat about the latest fashions and scandals
whilst sipping tea and nibbling daintily - we can only imagine - on a slice of
bread and butter - and so a new social institution was born! The Duchess and her
guests started holding parties of their own, and so hosting tea parties became
popular among the upper classes. Hostesses were judged not only on the kind of
afternoon tea they provided, but also on their tea paraphernalia. A successful
party needed this season's china, as well as strainers, sugar tongs and napkins.
Enterprising tailors even developed a new style of garment; the smock-like tea
gown, which was de rigueur for Victorian ladies-who-tea-partied.
In 1864, London bakery the Aerated Bread Company opened the UK's first tearoom.
(There had been tea gardens in the 18th century, although these were only open
over the summer, charged for admission and even refused entry to the working
classes.) Soon, tearooms were springing up all over. The biggest name in the
business was Joe Lyons, who opened his first tea shop, on London's Piccadilly,
in 1894, and the first of his famous Corner Houses 15 years later. These
establishments not only offered afternoon tea, but provided, for the first time,
a place that an unchaperoned young lady could visit with her friends and
maintain her reputation. Should she so wish, she could even be accompanied by -
whisper it! - a young gentleman.
Queen Victoria adopted the new passion for tea parties. By 1855, the Queen and
her ladies were in formal dress for the afternoon teas. A simple sponge cake
with cream and jam was one of the queen's favourites and so was born the cake we
now know as Queen Victoria's Sandwich. After her husband, Prince
Albert, died in 1861, Queen Victoria spent time on her estate on the Isle of
White viz Osborne House. According to historians, it was here that the cake was named