At several points in The Uncommon Reader, the queen is interrupted for her daily tea and pastries. According to Linda Stradley in an article on the History of English Afternoon Tea, before tea was introduced in Great Britain, its citizens had only two meals – breakfast and dinner. Breakfast consisted of ale, bread and beef. During the mid-18th-century, dinner for the middle and upper classes shifted from lunch time to later in the day.
While tea was common in British coffee houses by 1700, legend has it that afternoon tea was created by one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in waiting in the 19th-century. Supposedly, Anna Maria Stanhope was finding lunch to be less and less satisfying and started to sneak in tea and pastries around five in the afternoon. Soon she was inviting her friends to join her.
Afternoon tea is also called "low tea" because it was usually taken in a sitting room where there were low tables, such as coffee tables. In Great Britain it is served at 5 p.m. and does not go longer than 7 p.m. In the U.S., where it is mistakenly referred to as “high tea,” it is usually served in teahouses between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. High tea is normally a heavier meal, sometimes called “meat tea” and does not involve the pastries associated with afternoon tea.
If you are a tea drinker, here’s a few books that might interest you:
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss
Steeped in the World of Tea by Sharon Bard
Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West by Beatrice Hohenegger
If you are a tea lover, how do you drink yours? With biscuits and scones like the British? Or do you nibble on more American fare?
Let us know.