The History of Afternoon Tea (Cake History Part II)

What is Afternoon Tea?

Nowadays Afternoon Tea is considered an indulgent treat by most people and usually booked for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

Many restaurants, cafés and hotels offer the experience which generally consists of a selection of sweet & savoury goodies such as finger sandwiches, macarons, mini cakes and scones.

As the name suggests, the food was traditionally served mainly with tea but modern menus usually also include coffees and hot chocolate on top of a choice of popular black, green and herbal tea blends.

But who do we have to thank for the invention of Afternoon Tea?

The Duchess Who Was Tired of Waiting for Dinner

The concept of Afternoon Tea was born out of a feeling we can surely all relate to: a nagging craving for a snack when that gap between meals just seems intolerable.

It was around 1840 when Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, decided that a light refreshment between breakfast and dinner was the only way for her to cure that annoying “sinking feeling” she had started to experience during the afternoons.

Today we would probably call this feeling “being hangry” and it is certainly good to know that Duchesses are just like the rest of us!

Dutchess of Bedford - The creator of afternoon tea.

Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford and lover of late afternoon snacks

Urbanisation and the spread of industrialisation which came with amenities such as gas lighting had resulted in a change of eating habits amongst wealthier classes in England: Dinners were now taken quite late - sometimes even as late as 9:00PM - which led to a substantial gap between meals.

Not everyone was a fan of this trend and certainly not the Duchess of Bedford who soon began to order a pot of tea and some cake, bread and butter in the afternoons to her rooms at Woburn Abbey where she was staying at the time.

She enjoyed her tea and snacks in private at first but soon began to invite friends to join her and the response was so favourable that she continued to host these tea-and-cake-filled afternoons even after her return to London.

The new custom soon became a big success amongst the socialites of the upper classes and Afternoon Tea was born.

Fashionable ladies enjoying afternoon tea.

Fashionable ladies enjoying their Afternoon Tea


The Future of Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is as popular today as it was at Victorian times and there are now many playful variations on the traditional concept on offer if you are feeling adventurous, such as Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter themed Afternoon Teas.

At Jack & Beyond we have created a special Sweet Afternoon Tea menu for those of you with a sweet tooth which lets our delicious handmade bakes take centre stage. And since not only humans experience that dreadful “sinking feeling” between meals you can also treat your pooch to a Dog Afternoon Tea with us!


Sweet Afternoon TeaDog Afternoon Tea


It will be exciting to see where the trend will go but one thing is certain, the success story of Afternoon Tea will continue since everyone loves a good reason to eat more snacks, especially in form of cakes and scones!



British Museum

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