zaterdag 17 januari 2009

How afternoon tea was invented - part 3

So why did the switch in timing happen? During the 18th century, dinner was served at a gradually later and later time and by the early 1800s, the normal time was between 7.00 and 8.30 pm and an extra meal called luncheon had been created to fill the midday gap. But since this new meal was very light, the long afternoon with no refreshment at all left people feeling rather hungry. The story says that it was Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, who had the idea of asking her maid to bring all the tea making equipment to her private boudoir at 5 o'clock so that the Duchess could enjoy a cup of tea with a slice or two of bread and butter. Anna Maria found this afternoon tea such a perfect refreshment that she soon started inviting her friends to join her in her room for this new social event. And it really was more of a social event than a meal. Ladies did not go to afternoon tea gatherings to eat but to meet their friends, catch up on gossip, chat about the latest fashions and scandals, be seen in the right places among the right people and, in passing, to drink tea and nibble daintily on a small finger of bread and butter or a little sweet biscuit.

Once the trend had been set, all of fashionable society started to hold tea parties to suit almost any occasion - drawing room teas for groups of 10 or 20 visitors, small intimate teas for 3 or 4 friends, tea in the garden, 'at home' teas, tea receptions for up to 200 people, tennis teas, croquet teas, and picnic teas. The growing middle classes imitated the rich and found that tea was a very economical way of entertaining several friends without having to spend too much money. Pots of tea and a few small tea-time treats such as crustless sandwiches, hot buttered toast and scones, little pastries, and a cake or two were all that were required and expected.

And the tradition has lasted until now. Afternoon Tea is still the ideal way to entertain neighbors, friends, and even business acquaintances. It still creates the same elegant, refined, calm atmosphere that was enjoyed by the English during those previous 350 years of tea drinking.

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