Tea, as a meal, takes two forms here. There is High Tea which is a fairly substantial refreshment and usually includes hot food such as poached eggs on spinach , or warm ham and cheese sandwiches. It's name derives from the way in which is normally taken at a high table. Afternoon Tea , or low tea as it sometimes referred, is a light meal of sandwiches and cakes. This is usually eaten at a low table from the comfort of armchairs.
Cream tea is however, the finest way to satisfy a mid-afternoon hunger. A pot of tea, usually Earl Grey, is taken with chunky sweet scones, ( pronounced scons) strawberry jam and thick whipped cream. This is often accompanied by a slab of rich fruit cake. Sussex cream tea is about as good as it gets!
Tea as a drink was first imbibed in France from the 17th century - many years before it reached the British shores. Charles 11 and his Portuguese wife Catherine de Braganze introduced it here in the early 1600's when the started importing it on the trade route from India.
In 1663 the poet Edmund Phoebus wrote an ode to tea which included the lines
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Regress those vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen
By 1700 there were 500 coffee houses in London selling tea, and during the industrial revolution, high was eaten to satisfy the workers after a hard day in the factories of the Midlands and Northern England.
Low Tea became very fashionable during the Victorian era. Queen Victoria's lady in waiting, the Duchess of Bedford was fond of inviting afternoon guests for a stroll in garden after which they would enjoy tea! This upper class pursuit soon spread to all strata's of society, and eating afternoon tea remains an important part of British life to this day.
And long may it remain so!
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