American Man In London


Think back to your childhood. Do you remember the iconic scene of “Alice in Wonderland” when Alice joins the Mad Hatter and the March Hare for some tea to celebrate an “unbirthday?” If not, imagine teapots of different shapes and sizes covering each spot of the tablecloth, and heaps of jam and butter.  Although in excessive amounts, many of these components are typical of a proper afternoon tea in Britain. But, where did the concept of an afternoon tea as its own meal even come about?

Photo by Jason Cruz

History suggests that through the British India Trading Company, merchants shipped tea from the Far East to Britain. After Catherine of Braganza married King Charles I of England in latter half of the seventeenth century, she popularized tea as a drink and effectively made it a part of British culture. Let’s fast-forward a couple centuries, shall we?

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford made a splash with her creation of an “afternoon tea.” During her time, people essentially only ate two meals a day: breakfast and dinner. Like most of us, she always hit the afternoon-low around four o’clock. Instead of letting hunger bring her down, she started having tea and a light snack in her bedroom. Nowadays, individuals go to tearooms as a nice treat in the afternoon or if they just want to indulge in the British novelty. I did the latter.

I ordered a prix fixe meal called “Vintage Tea”. Included were: a pot of English Breakfast Tea, three sandwiches with cream cheese, cucumber, smoked salmon, and egg mayonnaise, one plain scone, one sultana scone, jam, clotted cream, fresh strawberries, and three cupcakes.

Photo by Jason Cruz

Unknowing of a few items on the menu, I asked the waitress for clarification for the sultanas and the clotted cream. A sultana is simply a raisin from a “white” grape. Dairy farms produce clotted cream by steaming whole milk and then transferring it to a shallow pan to cool

Overall, the meal did much more than satisfy my afternoon hunger. Then again, how can one go wrong with consuming carbs? Every component tasted fresh; the scones melted in my mouth, jam-clotted-cream combo made my taste buds ecstatic, and the cupcakes were not excessively sweet. Not an avid tea-drinker by any means, I unfortunately cannot adequately critique that aspect of the meal. If you’re ever in Britain, make sure to keep your pinkies down when drinking your tea. Like “fetch,” pinkies-up is not a thing!


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