The tradition of afternoon tea (not to be confused with high tea – more on that below) and the Cosmopolitan are contemporaries. Both gained their popularity in the mid 19th century — a popularity that continues today nearly a 160 years later. But how did this strange yet comforting ritual begin?
Afternoon tea was introduced in England around 1840 by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
A common misconception these days is that Afternoon Tea is synonymous with High Tea. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but traditionally High Tea refers to the habit of the working class gathering at the end of a long day of work for a cup of tea. It is thought that the term High Tea came about in reference the table and chairs around which workers would gather after work. Typically these would be tall chairs around a high kitchen table. High Tea would usually be accompanied by some sort of hot savory meal such as stew.
So, while Afternoon Tea was being served in the parlor upstairs with it’s low, comfortable furnishings, High Tea was being served for workers downstairs in the kitchen or other work spaces.