Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 3pm and 5pm. The custom of drinking tea originated in England when Catherine of Bragança married Charles II in 1661 and brought the practice of drinking tea in the afternoon with her from Portugal.Various places that belonged to the former British Empire also have such a meal. However, changes in social customs and working hours mean that most Britons will rarely take afternoon tea, if at all.
Traditionally, loose tea is brewed in a teapot and served in teacups with milk and sugar. This is accompanied by sandwiches (customarily cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon), scones (with clotted cream and jam, see cream tea) and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg, fruit cake or Victoria sponge). The food is often served on a tiered stand; there may be no sandwiches, but bread or scones with butter or margarine and optional jam or other spread.
A formal afternoon tea is, nowadays, usually taken as a treat in a hotel, café or tea shop. In everyday life, many British take a much simpler refreshment consisting of tea and biscuits at teatime.
While living in Woburn Abbey, Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the first person to have transformed afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal rather than a simple refreshment.
Isabella Beeton describes afternoon teas of various kinds: the old-fashioned tea, the at-home tea, the family tea and the high tea and provides menus.
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