Over the years I’ve been asked many times by Spanish friends, teachers and students alike if it’s true that the British like to stop what we’re doing around 5pm for a cup of tea and a chat, what they understand to be ‘teatime’.

I’m afraid that this just isn’t true. We British do love our tea, in fact we drink over 165 million cups per day in the UK, but there are no special set times. British tea drinkers will drink tea at all hours of the day and night regardless of the time (my dad used to make his last cup at 11pm before going to bed!). However, I do completely understand people’s confusion surrounding ‘teatime’.

In Britain we have something called ‘Afternoon Tea’ or in the olden days ‘Low Tea’, a rather fancy affair usually served between 3 and 5 pm on special occasions. The practice of serving tea in the afternoon is credited to Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford during the 1840’s. In a bid to fight off hunger pains caused by the substantial wait between lunch, normally eaten around 12 pm, and the evening meal which was becoming increasingly fashionable to be eaten later in the evenings, Lady Bedford asked for tea with bread and butter to be brought to her in her drawing room at 5 pm. Lady Bedford soon started asking her close lady friends to share tea with her, and this is how the practice of afternoon tea among the upper class began. By the late 1840’s, afternoon tea held in the drawing rooms of the grand houses of the elite had become fashionable. Afternoon tea was almost always served on less formal low chairs and tables (which we now call coffee tables) hence why it was also known as low tea. 

Nowadays afternoon tea is usually a treat served in many tearooms and hotels. In addition to tea, you usually get a selection of small sandwiches, traditional scones and lots of different cakes. Perhaps the most famous afternoon tea in the UK is served in The Ritz Hotel in London and is a bargain at £72 per person! And if you really want to spoil yourself, you could stay overnight in the hotel for around £1500 per night!

Traditionally tea was made in a teapot using loose leaf tea, but these days the majority of us use teabags, either in a pot or in a cup. Did you know that the teabag was actually an accidental invention? In the early 1900s, an American tea merchant sent out samples of tea to his customers in small silk bags, many of whom assumed that the bag was meant to be used instead of a metal infuser and so the teabag was born! 

Anyway, I think that’s enough about that, I’m going to put the kettle on!

Mark Samson

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