In order to appreciate the ritual of tea, there must be an understanding of the beginning of the tea tradition.
|Ann Maria of Bedford|
The tradition of afternoon tea began in the 1840’s. This ritual is usually attributed to Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, though she did not invent the tea ceremony. She simply gave it a name and settled it around the afternoon hour (Pettigrew, 2001, p. 24).It was during this period that is was common to eat only two meals a day such as breakfast and a late dinner around eight in the evening. She complained of “Having that sinking feelings during the afternoon” (afternoon tea, n.d.).
Thus, she came up with a solution of taking a pot of tea and a light snack in her boudoir in the afternoon. Later, she invited friends to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abby. This summer practice became increasingly popular, making the Duchess continue this ritual when she returned to London. She would send cards to her friends asking them to join her for “Tea and a walk in the fields.” (afternoon tea, n.d.).
Seeing the success of the Duchess prompted other social hostesses to begin their own tea parties, and thus the practice became respectable enough to be moved to the drawing room.
It wasn’t long before all fashionable society was enjoying tea and eating small sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon. The upper class, traditionally, had a low tea around four o’ clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The names of high tea and low tea derive from the table height. High tea, is rather a dinner, with a variety of hot and cold food. Low tea is a meal taken from a lower table, usually a side table, and is of a lighter substance.
Alas, afternoon tea is seldom enjoyed in modern society, except for those rare occasions such as bridal showers, baby showers, or birthdays.
I for one will strive to keep this elegant tradition for years to come.