Afternoon Tea is a delightful pastime that when carried our correctly, is a thoroughly enjoyable experience where one can take time out and relax. The tradition originated in England in the 1840's by Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford who found that the times between Lunch and Supper were too far apart. The Duchess requested that her servants bring her a pot of tea and some light refreshments including finger sandwiches and pastries. The tea, most likely from China at this time but soon replaced by Darjeeling, was to become a symbol of refinement and ultimately a social connector.
In 1841, she invited the young Queen Victoria to take Afternoon Tea with her, and from that point onward the place of Afternoon Tea was cemented. The taking of Afternoon Tea spread throughout the social circles in England and soon became a means of making connections, establishing family ties, and engaging with intimate friends. The taking of Afternoon Tea no longer survives so much as a regular social event, it is instead a rather rare occasion to many, however the sense of shared relaxation and timeless sophistication remain.
To me, there is little more quietly sophisticated than Afternoon Tea. It should be enjoyed with time so that it can be appreciated. This is no hastily drunk mug of coffee, no soft drink thrown down while waiting; Afternoon Tea is an act of giving time to oneself and to one's companions. The day is paused and in this time a sense of ease stretches over us. Afternoon Tea is an event to dress for. It is an event to be observed with a little formality, for one's own sake, and a chance to relive the style and decorum of another time. Whether one is reaching for the first, second or third tier; Whether one reaches for a finger sandwich of smoked salmon or watercress, a light scone with cream and strawberries, or a teacake; or whether indeed, one simply waits while the tea is poured, loose leaf of course - the very act of taking Afternoon Tea is one of understated elegance.