Mar. 25th 2013
I have asked one of our readers and fellow blogger to guest blog for us today!
Once we open, we will be available for Afternoon Tea Parties for social groups.
So I thought it would be great fun to get some information on teas from an expert.
As an institution, the event known as afternoon tea followed on from an ancient Oriental social custom. It came to prominence in the 17th century when it became established as an ‘event’ for the lady of the household.
A lady of wealth and privilege wouldn’t dream of going to an Hotel or coffee house, they being male dominated places where business and politics would be freely discussed and so she would invite her friends for an ‘at home’ of tea, gossip and hopefully scandal.
It was also an occasion where one could shove one’s wealth and rank firmly up the noses of one’s contemporaries and social equals and conduct the serious business of one-up-man-ship. Amongst ladies of rank and privilege the main criteria for an invitation to tea to be offered or accepted were wealth, property and social standing. Tea at that time was a highly expensive and valuable commodity and therefore the mere invitation to tea was an ostentatious gesture.
Being so precious the tea caddy became an important a fixture. It would be a solid box (or mini-safe) to which only the Hostess, or possibly a very trustworthy housekeeper, held the keys. Its presence said immediately that one was sufficiently ‘well-heeled’ to provide tea in the first place. Nowadays it would be the equivalent of inviting the neighbours over for drinks and then providing them with only the finest French champagne! The number of servants on hand to actually serve the guests was also a major plus factor in the social status stakes!
Queen Victoria by Bassano
During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901) afternoon tea began to expand into more of a small meal. The growth in industrialisation and the coming of a reliable artificial light meant that working hours could be extended beyond the restrictions imposed by natural daylight. As the gap between lunch and dinner became longer and longer afternoon tea, of necessity increased in variety and content with the addition of finger sandwiches, biscuits, savouries and cake, in order to fill the gap.
An American Tea Clipper at Sea
When, as time passed, the supply of tea from distant lands (India, China, Ceylon) increased in quantity due to the development of faster methods of transportation during the course of the Industrial Revolution, tea began to come within the reach of middle class purses and, eager to emulate the landed upper classes, they rapidly adopted the custom.
Gradually, along with the sandwiches and savouries, rich cakes, iced fancies, glazed pastries and sweetmeats from a bygone era were rediscovered and added to the ‘menu’ Afternoon tea became, for the aspirational Hostess to display her abilities in producing an interesting and exotic array of goodies for ‘The Ladies’ as well as the beverage itself.
At this time of course the Master of The House would be out and about with social, business and financial concerns. The rapidly expanding ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ market would provide for him with such niceties when ‘in town on business’ and of course any children would be confined to the nursery or playroom with a nurse or guardian to enjoy their own, more light-hearted tea-time and to keep them out of sight!
It would not be until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when women would become suitably emboldened and emancipated to go ‘out to tea’ at places like the Ritz, Selfidges and Harrods for their socialising but that is for another post.
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