My friend Caroline and I enjoy an occasional afternoon tea as a treat and during conversation (while sipping our Earl Grey teas) we agreed to start a new Instagram account about the teas we have loved – and not so loved. So I thought I’d get the ball rolling with an account of two teas we enjoyed in 2021.
Afternoon tea was invented in England and although it’s popular here, I’m not sure if other countries have this tradition too. Here it tends to be a pot of tea (accompanied by little cups and saucers), the food is displayed on a tiered stand and often includes a scone with clotted cream and jam, dainty sandwiches and little cakes and pastries. It does depend on price and whereabouts it’s served. Obviously a fancy hotel will offer much more than a more affordable one in a café but as long as there is plenty of tea, I’m usually quite happy!
The tradition started in the 1840s by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, and continues as a special treat in cafes, restaurants and hotels today. Cream tea is a smaller version of it, keeping the scone and tea but omitting all else. It’s just as delicious. But scones themselves do present a quandary. How does one pronounce it? Is it as rhyming with ‘gone’ or ‘tone’? And then there is the second controversy, do you spread the jam first, or the cream? It certainly depends on whether you’re in Cornwall (jam first) or Devon (cream first) but elsewhere I’m not sure what the rules are. I tend to put the jam first but obviously if I venture into Devon I will respect the local traditions there regarding scones, jam and cream!
In September, we booked a tea at a café next to and owned by a supermarket near us. Despite the excellent reputation of this establishment (at least the supermarket), the afternoon tea did not get off to a good start. Caroline had booked a week ago but the lady at the counter had a blank look on her face when we explained we were here for afternoon tea. This particular café is located next to the supermarket it’s part of so logically there should have been no issues with supply. But there was. Apparently there was a shortage of afternoon teas because some things hadn’t been delivered. But nobody thought to ring Caroline to cancel.
Caroline had already had one afternoon tea setback this year. She had organised a previous one with her mum, but because of a problem with her tooth, ended up cancelling it. Nobody wants to eat a scone with a tooth threatening to break off and escape.
Fingers crossed, this tea at Booths café would happen… but maybe not by the looks of it.
This café was going to be awarded a big fat zero out of 10 … but then the waitresses rallied round and said they would provide us an afternoon tea with what they already had in stock. She asked what sandwich we would like out of the ones on display in the café. I opted for cheese and pickle (all the others seemed to have egg in). We were given a choice of soup – kale, sweet potato and spinach or chicken. We both chose the kale soup. Not my usual choice but it was tasty. Crisps, scones, mini chocolate brownie, caramel shortcake and a muffin with icing on top completed the ensemble. From a bad start, the quick-thinking staff rallied round and we ended up enjoying a pleasant afternoon tea (cost £20 for two).
In November, we ventured to Happy Bunnies in Longton for Caroline’s birthday.
Happy Bunnies is a little café in a village not far from us. Happily this time we were expected! I loved the teapot and dainty cups and saucers. Personally, I was not keen on the sandwiches – prawn, egg and chicken – but the rest of the tea was top marks.
What variety of savoury and sweet there was here! Fruit scone with Cornish clotted cream & jam, scrumptious award-winning Bowens whist pie, spinach & ricotta pizza, Hoi sin and spring onion sausage roll, Lancashire Fiddlers crisps, spiced pumpkin & cream choux bun, raspberry & lemon drizzle cake, toffee apple meringue, pea and ham soup… even a delightful mini fruit punch. I had to take the vanilla bunny cake pop home as I was rather full by the end. At the end of an afternoon tea, a box is often a requirement to take goodies back home to snack on! This afternoon tea was very filling and we left feeling happy but stuffed. (Cost: £18.95 per person).
What is afternoon tea? ‘Afternoon Tea is a tea-related ritual, introduced in Britain in the early 1840s. It evolved as a mini meal to stem the hunger and anticipation of an evening meal at 8pm.’https://afternoontea.co.uk/information/what-is-afternoon-tea/