Tea is coming – Am I too northern for this?

Tea is coming – Am I too northern for this?

Hello!

I realised I’d not posted a Monday Munchies recipe since last year (okay, I know that was only two weeks ago!) and thought I should really get back to baking.

However, the last mince pie has only just left the building and we still have a massive slab of Christmas cake to work our way through. So to add more treats to the temptation list seemed a little unfair to the holiday waistband!

Of course, this didn’t stop me eating cake last week when I met up with my friend and we decided to indulge in Afternoon Tea. This tasty activity, conjuring images of being quintessentially British, is something I have said on more than one occasion is one of my favourite things to do. And it is. Except I’ve only done it in the traditional sense three times, all of which have been within the last twelve months.

I am an Afternoon Tea-taking fraud.

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Plenty of times I’ve gone out and consumed a sandwich, followed by a slice of cake, washed down with good cup of Yorkshire Tea (other tea brands do exist!) but the size of the individual portions alone knocks them straight out of the ‘Afternoon Tea’ category.

So instead of baking, today’s Monday Munchies will discuss: What is Afternoon Tea?

Let’s begin with a little history.

Back in the day of real-life period dramas and all things Dickensian or Downton, folk generally only ate two meals a day: Breakfast and an evening meal around 8pm.

For the poor 7th Duchess of Bedford, this was far too long  waiting to be fed and she demanded something be done about it. Clearly, her sugar levels were dropping mid-afternoon and as a solution, a pot of tea and a light snack was consumed in her bedchambers. You know, in case she felt the need to lie down after all that heavy sandwich lifting…

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After a while, she began to get lonely, so invited friends to join her, suggesting that they also walk off the meal with a stroll in the fields afterwards. Word soon got around and every lady socialite was clamouring to host afternoon tea parties and chat over tiny delicacies.

Once Queen Victoria got in on the act, that was it – it filtered out to the masses and her minions. Even grubby street urchins were seen to partake in nibbling miniature mud cakes and Sweeney Todd’s actual finger sandwiches.

Okay, maybe not that last part…

What my research revealed was a version called ‘High Tea’ – I had heard of this before, thinking it was just a posher way of describing the same thing. Seems not.

In a topsy-turvy turn of events, the traditional afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, scones and a variety of cakes was called ‘low tea’ and was reserved for the upper classes (talk about confusing!)

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High Tea was a variant invented by the lower, working classes that allowed them to indulge in the pastime but at a later hour. Like when the coal mines kicked out for the day or the fishing boats came back in. When everyone was famished.

The ‘high’ possibly referred to the height of the table it was served on – a higher, family kitchen table, as opposed to lounging around on your chaise longue, ringing a tiny bell for service.

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It also explains why I, and many of my native Yorkshire folk, will utter the words, ‘What ya done fer tea?’ Loosely translated as, ‘What have you lovingly prepared Dearest, to be served for dinner this evening?’

Don’t get me started on why lunch is dinner or dinner is tea and whether supper actually exists outside of Enid Blyton books!

I’m northern. Tea will be served and it could come in a mug or be a full meal on a plate. The context of the situation explains what is meant. Or you could read this fabulous article, it explains it far better than me!

Anyway, I digress.

Perhaps I’m too northern, too working class, to enjoy Afternoon Tea in the manner it was intended. Of the three times I’ve experienced it, it has never been a long, leisurely drawn out affair, more ‘we need to eat, let’s be a bit fancy about it.’

Experience one: Bettys

If you live in the UK, especially the north of Britain, you’ve likely heard of Bettys Tea Room. Having establishments across Yorkshire, it is a massive tourist attraction, with daily queues around the building at the one in York.

We were in York shopping. We were hungry. ‘Let’s go for afternoon tea,’ I said.

‘I’m not queuing, I’d rather get a burger…’ he said.

The queue was surprisingly short, only about ten people in it. So I managed to convince S to stand in the cold, among the tourists taking selfies against a window full of cakes. It still took us about twenty five minutes to gain entry but listening to the woman behind tell anyone who was listening about her frequent visits for tea at The Ritz, passed the time.

Once inside, you are presented with a very traditional, silver service set-up, where the staff wear mop caps and frilly aprons. I think I imagined the mop caps.

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We were seated downstairs, in a wood panelled room, that reminded me somewhat of being on the Titanic. I did think we were quite crammed in – trying to navigate the tables on the way to the toilets was a feat in itself.

Presented with the menu, S’ mood sank faster than that boat I thought we were on.

‘Twenty quid EACH, for a few sandwiches and a coffee?’

‘Tea,’ I reminded him.

‘That’s worse. I hate tea!’

I tried to explain we were paying for the experience. S wasn’t buying it. Indeed, at ยฃ18.95 a head for their basic afternoon tea package, it did seem a little steep: Finger sandwiches (none of which had fillings that leaped out at me), a scone and some other ‘treats’, plus an extensive array of teas that could rival any wine list.

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We opted for a crumpet and a scone, both of which were delightful and came presented on a tiered, silver tray. Although, when we left, we went in search of a burger…


Experience two: Vanessa’s

This artisan delicatessen is very close to us, selling delicious pastries and savoury goodness, with ingredients sourced locally. It also has a very well regarded tea room upstairs  – here too, people will happily queue to get in.

S took me for my birthday lunch last year, so we could sample their afternoon tea menu, which at ยฃ20 for two, was far more reasonable in our opinion.

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Vanessa’s are also proud to be Yorkshire folk and you’ll find no scrimping on portion sizes here: Huge scones, large triangles of traybake cakes and chunky, full-sized sandwiches (of your choice, not theirs). There is not a dainty finger bread in sight.

Nor was there anything dainty about the way we troughed through it in about twenty minutes! Admittedly, we had gone out late, had to queue and it was now a long time since eating breakfast. We were ravenous and it was all so delicious that we couldn’t help ourselves.

Rolling back home, we didn’t eat again that day. Perhaps there’s something to be said for finger snacks.


Experience Three: Patisserie Valerie

This bakery / tea room has just opened near us, although they are a chain and have outlets across the UK.

It was very quiet in the cafe. Our ‘Valerie’ is part of a department store, so I’m sure the little old ladies who were out, snapping up slippers in the sale, thought we were a little over the top with a selection of mini snacks and being fussed over by the staff.

That said, it was all very nice (ยฃ25 for two) and although not as filling as Vanessa’s, we couldn’t eat it all and asked the staff to box some cakes up.

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The sandwich choices were standard (salmon, cucumber, egg and ham) plus an extremely tasty,  chicken and sun-dried tomato version. There were also some mini quiches which I thought were a good addition to the savoury offerings. And thankfully no macaroons – not a fan.

Although we took longer to eat it, we could have had just as lovely a time and catch up with a large slice of carrot cake.

So there we have it. Am I doing it all wrong? What are your experiences? I’d be interested to hear if there are regional or even international variations on the basic menu.

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S really doesn’t see what the fuss is about, still. If we were characters in Game of Thrones, afternoon tea is how I feel they eat in Kings’ Landing and Highgarden. Yet S would likely agree we’re more Stark, preferring to chuck a piece of meat on the table that everyone can dig into and tear a piece off.

Still, there’s part of me that channels my inner Sansa and just loves those tiny lemon cakes…

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Image Credits: My own, plus giphy.com, afternoontea.co.uk, gameofthroneswiki and Comedy Central (If you’ve not watched Another Period, you should!)

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45 thoughts on “Tea is coming – Am I too northern for this?

  1. DInner is definitely in the middle of the day, tea in the evening and supper doesn’t exist. Apart from a fish supper.

    I’ve never got on with afternoon tea either, like the idea but the price is always prohibitive. And I’m from Lancashire…

    extremehousewife.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, yes a fish supper! Which for us means fish and chips (the same for you?) which is still eaten at teatime! You see, we’re both northerners, it must mean something for our poor relationship with afternoon treats!

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  2. I could never figure out what the difference was between “high” tea and just tea. Was there a low tea? And why was it lower? Your post this morning has made everything perfectly clear. Here in San Francisco is a wonderful place called “Lovejoy’s Tea Room.” You can choose to have just tea and a crumpet, tea and a crumpet and sandwiches, or the whole works. My friend and I go for the whole works, fabulous little sandwiches with gourmet fillings, scones, crumpets, fruit, salad, little cakes for dessert. We go at 11 am, and we are not able to eat anything at all until about 10 that night, maybe a light snack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really confused me, the high and low scenario. It makes sense now I know it’s about tables but not when I thought about it in relation to class.
      I’m so glad you have crumpets, they’re the best! I always thought they were just a British thing (we also have pikelets which are a flatter version of crumpets, despite many people swearing blind that they are the same thing!). But you can’t beat a warm buttered crumpet with a little cheese on top. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Hi Haylee! I loved this post!It reminded me of my family’s life-long addiction to tea! Although I come from a working class Irish-American family, my grandparents immigrated here from Roscommon and Cork. Tea was a given. As soon as we entered into my grandmother’s home, we had a cuppa. And the kettle never left the stove. Growing up, my mother always had tea in the younger siblings baby bottles. Oh yes she did! When my dad, who was a NYC Police officer, finished his midnight shift arrived home, sometimes we kids would wake up, jump out of bed, and the family had what was called “Teaboat Time” (I have no idea how my parents came up with that name). Oona and I always enjoy our tea in the evening or late afternoon whenever we are together. Now with winter, I’ll have my morning coffee, but the rest of the day it’s tea.
    And when I was younger, MUCH younger, “High” tea had a different meaning. (think about it my British daughter–think about it! !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the name of Teaboat Time! I remember having luke-warm tea in a training cup at a very young age, probably explains why I like it milky (and with honey – my mum used to put that in my baby bottle too). As for ‘high tea’, I get you… of the times I’ve indulged, it’s been in a cuppa!
      Your Irish heritage stories reminded me of Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted – I’m not sure if this comedy made it across the Atlantic, but here’s a little clip (hope it plays). Mrs. Doyle sure loved her tea!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OMG. OMG!!! I HAVE a DVD set of Father Ted episodes. That show was hysterical and I’m glad I have it! Mrs. Doyle is a pistol! Oh…and it’s funny that you mention milky tea. Oona was with friends a while ago and ordered tea with milk. Her friends were astounded because non of them take milk in tea! She actually called me to discuss that. We’ve always been a milky tea family! I’m so tickled that you love the term “Teaboat” time. Isn’t it adorable???

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve never understood tea with lemon. Not normal tea anyway – I don’t put milk in herbals!
        So glad you know who Father Ted is! Drink! Guurrls! Haha, I need to go watch some now ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. As an American student living in London for a spell many years ago, a friend and I went to tea at Harrods. This was a long time ago so my memory is sketchy at best!

    I don’t remember thinking it was overly expensive at the time, but I was a carefree college student – I probably just didn’t care. I remember enjoying the tiny sandwiches but loving the tiny cakes so much more.

    And the tea… I drank it. I have no idea what kind it was. It was good but after two cups, I asked for coffee. Just couldn’t go without it for any longer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dread to think how much Harrods charge these days! Tiny anything is better in my opinion (from a cute looks point of view). I have never had a full cup of coffee in my life – hate it! Yet I love coffee cake and coffee icing. I’m so contrary!

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  5. Living in Cambridge it’s very easy for one to partake in afternoon tea. I must confess as a very occasional treat for the pomp and ceremony I’ll have a go but otherwise, yeah they are just robbing us blind for ridiculously small sandwiches. Without crisps! ๐Ÿ˜ณ Sandwiches must come with crisps – it should be law!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. haha, I’m a Greggs girl myself or even pound bakery, though their products are shrinking (huh they think I don’t notice) As one Northerner to another yes we have dinner and tea. I have heard all about Betty’s Tea Room and have always thought it sounds a bit of a rip off. Vanessa’s sounds much more my cup of tea where they appear from your picture to know how to make a proper door-step buttie. If you need any help eating your Christmas cake – mines all gone ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pound bakery? Like a Poundland? Ooh, we don’t have those! I’m more of a Coupland’s fan, but I do like a Greggs steak bake!
      Door step butties – doorstep bread is the best, although butties round these parts are chip sarnies! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jam sarnies are Sam’s favourite – it’s the word butty that denotes chips. Or actually something cooked and savoury because we say bacon or sausage butties too. But never jam butties!

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      1. I’ve never been to a High Tea. It’s surely far too posh for me. Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch,supper, table time (I invented that – it’s a cup of tea, a fancy piece and a chat at about 9pm) then a few haribos or maoms in bed. Yeah I’m gross lol

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  7. I love how you can take your random thoughts and turn them into a history lesson that is both humorous and enjoyable! Love it! While I do love a good cup of tea…. I have never taken part in the traditional tea…neither high or low!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad it entertained you! It’s probably a good job that I can rein my thoughts into some kind of order! You should try afternoon tea at least once and in my experience, American portions are like Yorkshire portions so it should be a more substantial, high tea version ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I may not live in the right area for high tea. Never heard of places by us having that. I wouldn’t even know how to dress. I think it high tea and think of ladies in suit style dresses with fancy hats and gloves. ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know if I can rock the fancy hats, but I’d try. It would be more of the fancy dress like outfits that is have to say heck no to. I don’t really wear dresses unless forced. I’m a jeans gal, or lately leggings gal! All about comfort! ๐Ÿ˜€

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  8. Being a big manly, hairy, smelly type, one might assume that I wouldn’t be reading a post about afternoon tea. You’d be right! I skimmed this article! (And then I went back and read it. Because I felt guilty.)

    I wanted to say hi to my blogging buddy Hayley, and report that over the weekend, my wife and I were in New York (it’s like your York, but newer) to see a musical and stuff. Some friends of ours were in the city for their daughter’s birthday. Their daughter is my wife’s goddaughter (and my demigod-daughter… this is getting confusing, sorry) and they invited us to Tea at this place called Alice’s Teacup.

    It cost something like a million dollars. Okay, not really. But they brought us a bunch of tea that we kept drinking, and a ridiculous amount of itty-bitty sandwiches.

    Because we’re Americans, we should have thrown some of the tea in the harbor and protested about taxes. But we were thirsty and just drank it all up. Just in case someone was going throw our tea in the harbor as part of a protest, and we’d better get all we could at that moment.

    Anyway, thanks for the history lesson about when the habit of afternoon tea kicked in and your various experiences. As always, it’s a joy to read your postings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Best. Comment. Ever!

      I love the sound of Alice’s Teacup (almost as much as I love the term ‘demigod daughter!) I certainly hope there was a Mad Hatter and a Cheshire Cat hanging about!

      Hope you and wife had an exciting weekend (well done on the six word story win btw) and thanks for reading out of your manly comfort zone! At least I threw in some GoT references ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re such a funny writer! And this line had me in stitches – “and whether supper actually exists outside of Enid Blyton books!” HA! They were so secretly middle class…..or not so secretly.

    I’m from the South East (boo! hiss!) and I love Afternoon Tea and I LOVE chips in gravy (eh? eh?) and I ADORE Yorkshire Tea more than any other tea brand! Not sure what any of that proves or means but thought I’d say it, as I’m sure it means….something!

    GREAT post!!! (stop using caps lock Emma!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe, thank you! Seriously though, I don’t know of anyone who eats supper – obviously not in the right circles am I?
      I’d definitely be down for afternoon tea if it came with small portions of gravy and chips though – you must have some northern heritage in your veins!

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      1. Although I haven’t partaken in enough afternoon teas to be an afficionado, I do like mine with a glass of something fizzy (but not coca-cola!)

        Liked by 1 person

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