Author: Zoe Keeghan
Title: The Joys of Afternoon Tea
It’s three in the afternoon, and I’m watching curls of steam rise from my cup of tea. It’s almost spring, but a winter chill lingers in the air. Wrapping my hands around the warm mug is comforting, and not just because of the heat. This has become something of a ritual for me; one cup of tea after breakfast, another for afternoon tea, and one (non-caffeinated) after dinner. My favourite is always this one, the one at a time when my concentration has started to waver. This tea break is just what I need to rejuvenate my energy, a welcome respite from the weekly tasks and university assignments that always seem to pile up.
Another reason I like it is the opportunity for a snack. By three, lunch was so long ago that I barely remember it. It seems like an eon until dinner. Afternoon tea is just what I need. I’ll have a steaming hot cuppa with a mandarin, or a block of chocolate, or a microwavable cup of rice. Today it’s a slice of bread with butter and marmalade. As I eat and drink, I’m struck with a strange feeling. I’m not sure if it’s the combination of tea and bread, but suddenly what I’m doing feels… old. I’m picturing ladies wearing puffy dresses sipping tea and eating marmalade sandwiches with the crusts cut off. As it turns out, I’m not entirely wrong.
Anna Maria Russell is often credited with the invention of afternoon tea. She was the Duchess of Bedford from 1839 until her death in 1857, and was supposedly a close friend of Queen Victoria. The part of her tale we’re interested in occurred sometime in the 1840s, when she went to visit the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. I imagine it went something like this.
Anna’s stomach rumbled, and she felt a blush rise to her cheeks. Luncheon had been light, as was custom, and so long ago. Her stomach rumbled again, and she pressed a hand to her bodice. It would be hours until dinner. She simply couldn’t wait.
She hurried out of the room where she was staying and down the hall, her skirts whispering against the polished wooden floor. She turned a corner, startling a young serving girl. ‘Perfect!’ Anna exclaimed. ‘I have a request for the kitchens.’
The girl almost raised an eyebrow, struggling to maintain her composure. Anna knew what she was thinking. A request for the kitchens, at this hour of the afternoon! But the girl simply curtsied. ‘How may I help you, Your Grace?’
Anna thought for a moment. ‘I would like a pot of tea to be taken to my rooms, with some bread and butter.’
‘Of course, Your Grace,’ the girl nodded.
‘And some cake,’ Anna added.
‘Right away, Your Grace,’ the girl said, and hurried off.
Later, Anna smiled as she sipped her tea and ate her cake and sandwiches. This really was a splendid idea. Perhaps tomorrow she should invite her friends to join her for – what should she call it? – afternoon tea.
GDJ from Pixabay. Hand-drawn Tea Set Illustration. Accessed 4 October, 2021. Canva One Design Use License Agreement.