The History of Afternoon Tea

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The History of Afternoon Tea; A Quintessential British Tradition

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James

The city of Victoria on Vancouver Island is famous for its strong British roots that can be observed both in its rich architecture and local customs. Afternoon tea is no exception with many local restaurants and venues offering this archetypal British tradition. But have you ever wondered how this unique practice came to be?

History of Afternoon Tea - Victoria BC

The history of afternoon tea all began in the early 19th century as tea consumption significantly increased in Western Europe and particularly within the British Empire. Back in those days, people only had two meals a day; breakfast and a late dinner. This made for a long interval without food and an expected plunge in energy by the late afternoon. To counter that “sinking feeling”, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford began taking a cup of tea every afternoon in her boudoir, accompanied by light snacks. Relishing that moment of bliss, Anna started inviting friends to join her for afternoon tea which then spread among other socialites and quickly developed into a popular custom within the aristocratic society. Afternoon tea eventually moved from the intimate space of a boudoir to the visible drawing rooms and was soon adopted by all levels of society.

History of Afternoon Tea. Afternoon Tea in the garden 1907

By the 1880’s, afternoon tea was at the height of its popularity with the upper class ladies dressing into stylish long gowns, gloves and hats to enjoy their afternoon tea among the social elite. Traditionally, afternoon tea would be served to the upper class around 4 in the afternoon, usually prior to a fashionable walk (at Hyde Park in London if possible), while the middle and lower classes would go for a more ample “high tea” later in the day (usually between 5 or 6pm) that would substitute for dinner.

Today, the practice of afternoon tea has mostly disappeared, replaced by a single cup of tea and a biscuit, while traditional afternoon tea is regarded as a special occasion treat. If you are interested in experiencing this fun and unique custom, we offer both Traditional and West Coast Afternoon Teas in the Pendray Teahouse situated in the beautiful Victorian-era Gatsby Mansion located by Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

The Pendray Teahouse is open Wednesday-Sunday from 11am to 7pm. As reservations are recommended, please Click Here to book or call 1-800-663-7557.