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When you think of Britain, especially England, You have images of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Bowler Hats, but there is one thing that typifies the English more than anything else, and that is their love of tea. Especially the traditional Afternoon Tea. 175 MILLION cups of tea are drunk in Britain every day, and tea accounts for about 43% of everything that is drank in Britain.

Tea was first introduced into Britain in the 17th Century, but it was not until the late 18th Century that drinking afternoon tea became a social event. The seventh Duchess of Bedford is credited with inventing afternoon tea, and taking tea became very popular in late Georgian and early Victorian times and is currently making a great revival.

Tea Today
There is some dispute as to what makes the perfect cup of tea, but it is believed if you warm the pot, so ensuring that the water stays around boiling point for as long as possible, this will ensure a good cup of tea. You should not use an aluminium teapot, as this will impair the flavour.

Although tea bags are of a very good quality these days, it is still thought that tea leaves should be used to make the tea, and the tea poured through a tea strainer.

English afternoon tea can be served any time between 3:30pm and 5:30pm. It is still correct for the tea to be made and poured by the hostess. If two different types of tea are being served, the most important of the other lady guests is asked to pour the second pot. One tea will probably be Earl Grey, named after a former Prime Minister of England; this tea has a distinctive flavour, which comes from being treated with Oil of Bergamot. Another type to be served may be Darjeeling, which comes from the foothills of the Himalayas.

Milk must always be offered, but never cream. If milk is taken, it should always be put in the cup first. Sliced lemon should be available, as should white sugar for those who just can’t do without it.

The food taken with afternoon tea normally changes with the seasons. In summer thin sandwiches with cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, are normally taken. Meat paste and jam of some description are eaten in winter. The cakes in summer should be light and creamy, perhaps a Victoria Sponge, or maybe cream horns, where in the winter, they should be heavier, spicy and fruity. Dundee cake being a particular favourite of mine.

There are no conventions with afternoon tea, the food can be admired without being eaten, you may pick at the food, or you may make a pig of yourself, no one will mind

The choice of tea you drink will of course change according to mood, weather, and food. Here are a few suggestions you may wish to try. On a hot summer’s day, a refreshing Lap Sang Souchong from the Fujian Province of China, with cucumber sandwiches. On a warm pleasant day, why not try the lovely scented Earl Grey, or Ceylon tea, a wonderfully golden colored infusion that is absolutely delicious with a slice of lemon. On a colder day, a tea with more body is required, such as Darjeeling, a mild, well-rounded tea. In really cold weather, try Indian Assam, a malty pungent tea that goes exceptionally well with milk.

There is a tea for everyone, so never be afraid to experiment. There is no right or wrong, this is the great fun about afternoon tea. Try blending your own, until you get one that suits your own taste and palate. A favourite of mine is two or three spoonfuls of Assam with one spoonful of Earl Grey. Another combination is Ceylon tea with just a faint trace of Lap sang Souchong. The combinations are endless.

So what could be better than inviting a few friends round, and making them afternoon tea? After all, you now know the secrets, so impress your friends, and you can look forward to many pleasant sociable afternoons in the future.