Afternoon tea might be considered the quintessential English custom, but the history of tea dates back to ancient China, roughly 5,000 years ago. Legend has it that Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea in 2732 B.C. when a few leaves from an overhead tree fell into his pot of boiling water. Intrigued by the resulting scent, he consumed it.

Fast forward to the late 17th Century, when tea drinking first became popular in England. But the concept of “afternoon tea” didn’t come about until the 1840s, originated by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. According to history, Anna often complained of feeling hungry around four p.m. and would ask that a tray of tea and snacks be delivered to her private boudoir. Eventually, the duchess began inviting her friends to join her, and wasn’t long before this “pause for tea” developed into a fashionable social event. By the 1880s, it was customary for upper-class English women to change into long gowns, put on gloves and hats, and attend afternoon tea in the drawing room.

Menu and etiquette

A traditional English-style tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (English cucumber is a must), along with warm scones served with clotted cream and preserves, and an assortment of sweet cakes and pastries. The tea itself, typically grown in India or Ceylon, is poured by a designated pourer from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.

Etiquette dictates that one must eat the sandwiches first – using fingers, not cutlery – followed by the still-warm scones. Scones should be broken in two by hand, never by knife, and each half should be eaten separately.

Preparing the tea has its own set of rules. Sippers must begin by placing the spoon in a 6 o’clock position in the cup, then they “fold the tea” back and forth without letting the spoon touch the rim. After stirring, the spoon must be removed from the cup and placed neatly on the saucer next to it.

Sound a bit on the formal side? Well, the rules around afternoon tea are no longer quite so stringent – although there is no denying that many tea enthusiasts still like to prescribe to tradition. The dress code may no longer call for long gowns and white gloves, but the effort to dress smartly is always welcomed.

Timeless Afternoon Tea at the Glenerin Inn

From Mondays through Thursdays between 2 and 4:30 p.m., newbies and traditionalists alike are invited to experience afternoon tea, featuring assorted sandwiches ranging from traditional cucumber and watercress, to smoked salmon with caper cream cheese. Other menu items include freshly baked warm Scones, fresh seasonal berries and a variety of delicious pastries.

Of course, let’s not forget the selection of fine teas, served only in the Inn’s finest china. We hope to see you there—and how you hold your pinkies is optional!

For more information, see our Timeless Afternoon Tea menu (PDF).