Afternoon Tea: A Very English Pastime

afternoon tea

The English drink a lot of tea. It is without doubt an important part of our culture to put the kettle on numerous times a day. There is something soothing and reassuring about hearing the words: “do you want a cuppa love?” But sometimes it is nice to take this quintessential English pastime a step further, in order to turn having a brew into something special.

This can be done by indulging in afternoon tea so on a Saturday afternoon, we ventured to Stokes High Bridge Cafe on the High Street in Lincoln to partake in a bit of poshness. 

Scones with jam and clotted cream, a selection of cakes and some mini sandwiches were served over three tiers. We drank ‘Gold Medal Tips’ tea – described as a blend of conventional teas. This was the standard tea that came with the deal. But there are actually more than 20 different kinds of tea served at the cafe.

afternoon tea lincoln

The flavours on offer range from jasmine, ginger and lemon to the bergamot-scented Earl Grey, Japanese cherry and China Rose Congou (flavoured with rose petals).

It was a delicious and sophisticated experience; although I am sure I looked far from ladylike stuffing cake after cake into my gob and loudly slurping my brew.

The atmosphere in the cafe was full of cosy charm. The building itself is medieval style, featuring that characteristic Tudor black and white panelling.

The cafe sits on the 12th century High Bridge – the oldest bridge in the UK which still has buildings on it.

One of the atmospheric lamps in the cafe.

afternoon tea

Where does the English tradition of afternoon tea come from?

The tradition of afternoon tea began in England during the Victorian times. Members of high society would don their finest outfits to attend the staple social event. Traditionally, tea grown in India of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was delicately poured from silver teapots into china cups.

Despite England being synonymous with drinking tea, there is actually only one tea plantation in the whole country. This is based at the Tregothnan Estate near Truro, Cornwall.

These truly English teas are shipped all over the world to places such as Japan, China and India.

What are the real roots of tea?

Yunnan Province in China is known as ‘the birthplace of tea’. Tea drinking is thought to have began here as far back as 550 BC.

Tea drinking was believed to have arrived in Japan in 1191, when a Zen Buddhist monk returned from his travels in China and introduced the tea ceremony. The ceremony, which is a well-known part of Japanese tradition today, was based on tea-drinking rituals used by the Buddhist monks in China.

Tea was used to aid meditation

Tea was first brought into Europe by the Dutch at the beginning of the 17th century. It did not reach England for another 50 years.

Ceylon tea became particularly popular with the Victorians. This is a black tea, known for its rich, intense flavour.

Today, a cup of Tetley will do. But there is always the option of trying something a bit more exotic. Even the supermarkets have shelves filled with many different types of tea.

Millions of cups of tea are drunk in England every day

Drinking tea can be a means of socialising, a comforting beverage to help cheer somebody up or just simply something to do to fill the time. When the adverts come on the TV, this is a popular opportunity to get the kettle on.

Some people like to keep things traditional – serving tea in a teapot. My sister does this. Nothing beats having a nice cup of tea served from a teapot.


 Do you enjoy drinking tea? What is your favourite brew? Leave you answer in the comments below.




  1. October 30, 2011 / 17:29

    I have had the good fortune to travel on the Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner once a few years ago before it was retired. This is the first time I encountered the concept of high tea. It was pretty neat. Although I’m sure in my t-shirt and jeans I didn’t really fit in, but it was fun nonetheless to have waiters with white gloves pass out cakes with tongs and small sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
    I did the QM2 liner twice and although they do tea as well, it wasn’t the same. It had lost some of its flair somehow. I keep looking for another opportunity to experience it, but I really don’t fit into that rung of society happily, so I will continue to search for lowbrow high tea.

    • October 30, 2011 / 18:07

      Hi Andrew, that sounds a lot posher than the two times I’ve had afternoon tea. White gloves and tongs – wow that is posh :-) A lot of the big hotel chains in England do afternoon teas as well. The last time I went it was for my sister’s birthday at the Radisson Edwardian in Manchester. It’s a really nice thing to do for a special occasion (or just for the sake of it), and you can usually have a glass of champagne to go with it as well! The QE2 must have been an amazing experience – it’s ashame it no longer sails. I’ve only ever seen it from the exterior – stopping off at the Port in Liverpool many years ago. Cheers for your comment.

  2. October 31, 2011 / 02:43

    I am not a big tea fan but I love how the English have really incorporated tea into their lives. I think I would go to afternoon tea just for scones!

    • October 31, 2011 / 20:22

      Hi Suzy, scones are delicious. I really enjoy tea but I actually prefer coffee. I need lots of caffeine to get me through the day! You could always have champagne instead of the tea ;-)Thanks for your comment.