Tea And Tiny Treats

Some days call for piping hot tea, and a three-tiered tower of tasty treats. What’s your favourite –  the wee lemon tarts, the butter-cut scones, or the mini egg-swirl sandwiches? Whom can we thank for this mid-day delight, and should we be calling it ‘high tea’ or ‘afternoon tea?’



This delicately delicious meal is traditionally called “afternoon tea”. Add a glass of champagne, and it’s “royal tea”.

High tea, the Oxford Dictionary tells us, is ‘a meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening, typically consisting of a cooked dish, bread and butter and tea.’ This oft misidentified meal was meant to relieve worker bellies until dinner came at eight.

It is Anna Maria Russell – the Duchess of Bedford and Queen Victoria’s Lady of the Bedchamber – who is most often credited with creating afternoon tea.

As Reverend Henry Tattam wrote in his 1858 ‘Memoir of Her Grace The Late Duchess Of Bedford’ : ‘On the Queen’s Accession to the Throne in June 1837, Her Majesty wrote to the Duchess, then Lady Tavistock, in these words: “Having had the pleasure of knowing you from my earliest youth, and having always had the highest esteem for your character, I should be delighted to appoint you as one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Should such an appointment be agreeable to you, I beg to see you at Kensington Palace tomorrow at two o-clock.”

It was agreeable; the Lady came to Kensington. Not so agreeable: the ‘sinking’, hangry feeling Anna Maria came to experience every day around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Why on earth was royal dinner not until 8 or 9 pm?

On hearing of her angst, the Lady of the Bedchamber’s servants snuck into her room with tea and little snacks. Capital idea! The Duchess started inviting her friends to this sweet, stealthy meal. Some called this “low tea”, as the  ladies sipped and nibbled in sunken armchairs.

Soon, word of these secret teas got out to Queen Victoria. Thankfully, Her Majesty was fully on board with this new afternoon delight. Let us eat little cakes.


Header Art: Anita Austvika




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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton