Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time

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This post combines two of my favorite passions: travel and tea time. I first experienced the delights of afternoon tea in Scotland, during my 2014 trip. My cousin Mindy and I visited several tea rooms while traveling the country. And we discovered that every hotel and Bed & Breakfast that we stayed in included all the makings on site for afternoon tea.

I enjoyed the practice so much that I embraced drinking hot tea when I returned home. I sip on at least two cups of hot tea a day and pause in the afternoon for a tea break. It’s a refreshing way to relax for half an hour and refocus. Additionally, I’ve learned how to keep my afternoon tea times plant based and healthy. It’s a win/win for me.

Have you ever wondered how this tradition began? Wonder no more! Check out these fun facts about the British custom of tea time.

Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time title meme

Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time

The practice of afternoon tea time originated in England. It’s estimated that today 80% of Britons drink tea, consuming 165 million cups daily. I’ve found the practice in Scotland and Ireland as well. Plus, there are a surprising number of hot tea drinkers in the US.

How many of these fun facts about tea time do you know?

A Duchess Began the Tradition of Afternoon Tea

In 1840, Anna Russell, seventh Duchess of Bedford, routinely experienced hunger in the afternoon. With an 8:00 pm dinner time seemingly far away, the famished Duchess began requesting tea served with bread, butter and cake in the afternoons.

Anna invited friends to join her and soon the practice of afternoon tea spread, becoming a popular way to socialize…and stave off hunger. By the 1880s, upper class women changed into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon teas, served in the drawing room between 4:00 and 5:00.

Those early afternoon teas consisted of a selection of finger sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and preserves, cakes and pastries. Tea grown in India or Ceylon filled delicate bone china cups.

Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time beet root sauvage
Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time – Beetroot Sauvage vegan afternoon tea, in Edinburgh, Scotland

Monks Invented Devonshire Cream Tea

Cream tea is a type of afternoon tea consisting of tea served with scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam.

At a Benedictine Abbey in Devon, England, monks served tea and bread with clotted cream and strawberry jam to local workers helping to rebuild their abbey after a Viking raid. The locals enjoyed the treat so much that the monks served it to travelers passing by.

Devonshire cream tea was born.

Cream Tea in Cornwall is Different

However, cream tea served in Cornwall differs slightly from that served in Devon. In a playful rivalry between the two towns, the distinction is in how the clotted cream and strawberry jam is served.

In Devon, clotted cream is applied to scones first, with strawberry jam added last. In Cornwall, the clotted cream goes on top of the jam.

Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time home
Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time – my version of a healthy, vegan scone, served with tea at home.

There’s a Low Tea and a High Tea

During the Victorian Era, two types of tea were common.

Low Tea was served on low lounge chairs and low, small tables. The aristocracy enjoyed low tea. Those partaking of high tea sat in higher chairs, around a normal height and sized table. The working class often substituted high tea for their evening meal.

Afternoon Tea and High Tea Aren’t the Same

As established above, afternoon tea is typically enjoyed between 4:00 and 5:00 and sometimes as late as 6:00. Afternoon tea is what tea rooms across the UK serve, with those little sandwiches, sweets, savories, scones and pastries.

High tea is traditionally an end of the day meal for the working class. That meal might include meats, pies, salads, pickles, bread and butter, cakes and of course, a pot of hot tea. Today, most simply use the term “tea” for this meal, which is still popular in Northern England.

Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time edinburgh
Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time – a traditional afternoon tea in the Garden Room at the Kimpton Hotel on Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. It is vegan as well and beautifully presented. The pitcher contains oat milk.

For a Proper Cup of Tea Add Milk

In the UK, a cup of tea isn’t complete until you add milk. And traditionally, milk is added last.

The reason might surprise you.

Cheap china cups can crack when hot tea is poured into them. However, fine china does not crack. Putting milk into the tea last became a way for the upper class to show that they possessed the finest china cups.

While in England and Scotland, I too added milk to my tea. It became a habit at home as well, until I switched to a plant based lifestyle. I also discovered that the stronger black tea caused inflammation in my joints. Now I primarily drink plain herbal tea, although when I do indulge, almond milk is my choice.

Don’t Hold Your Pinkie Finger Out When Drinking Tea

According to etiquette experts, stretching out the pinkie finger while drinking tea isn’t consider proper. In fact, it’s rude.

Proper afternoon tea etiquette rules include:

  • hold the teacup by the handle, not by cupping with the hands, and keep that pinkie finger down
  • stir tea up and down with the spoon, when adding milk or sugar, not around in circles
  • also, don’t clink the spoon against the cup or tap the spoon on the top of the cup after stirring
  • remove spoon though after stirring…don’t leave it in the cup while drinking and never put the spoon in your mouth
  • you don’t need to lift the saucer with the teacup, while sipping tea, unless you are standing far from a table
  • let tea cool naturally, if it’s too hot…don’t blow on it
  • eat the treats accompanying the tea with your fingers
  • eat the savories and sandwiches first, then the scones with clotted cream and jam, and lastly, the sweets
  • break scone into pieces to eat, using a knife to add butter, clotted cream or jam to each piece, and never dunk them into the tea
Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time healthy
Fun Facts About the British Custom of Tea Time – my healthy snacks with lemon balm herbal tea

Are You a Hot Tea Lover?

I love my hot tea. A typical afternoon tea for me includes a cup of herbal tea and a healthy snack such as fruit, dates or a gluten free, vegan cookie or scone. Rather than finger sandwiches, I might have cucumber bites made from sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and a sprig of fresh basil. And frequently, I simply enjoy a cup of tea without treats.

Beyond giving me an intentional pause in the day, sipping hot tea connects me with my Scottish and English roots. I love the tradition and enjoy afternoon tea whenever I visit the UK. There are many caf├ęs that offer vegan treats for tea time. I am grateful.

Do you drink hot tea? What’s your favorite? And do you take your tea with milk?

It's always tea time at my house


Other posts about tea:

Afternoon Tea at the Historic Phelps House

Ms Gilmore’s

Afternoon Tea Week


Click photo to order your teapot and start your own tea time tradition


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