THE HISTORY OF
THE CREAM TEA
A much loved British tradition, the cream tea has been enjoyed by the nation since 1662. Take a look at some of the history surrounding our most loved afternoon treat.
If you want to see where you can find the perfect cream tea in your area, why not use our Cream Tea Finder.
Time for Tea
Britain’s love affair with tea began when Portuguese Catherine de Braganza married Charles II in 1662, bringing the custom of drinking tea at court with her and making tea popular worldwide.
In 1706, Thomas Twining opened London’s first tearoom. Before long, a flurry of tearooms appeared across the city, a far sight more inviting for a lady than the male-oriented coffee houses.
Tiring of the long wait between lunch and dinner, we have the Duchess of Bedford to thank for the invention of afternoon tea. What started out as simply ordering tea and treats to her room when peckish soon evolved into a gowns-and-all social affair, inviting friends to join her in her country house.
By the middle of the 19th century, afternoon tea was an every day occurrence; a spread of sandwiches, cakes, scones, cream and jam – the first hint of cream teas as we know them today.
The Cream Tea
The cream tea tradition flourished in the Westcountry following the tourism boom in the 1850s, brought on by the opening of the railway. Visitors bustled south looking to relax and indulge, and hotels, tearooms, farmhouses and cafés were happy to oblige – offering delicious afternoon cream teas, made with the finest local ingredients.
The jam was invariably strawberry. And the cream was always clotted.
The Cornwall/Devon Devide
Cream then jam, or jam then cream? It’s the difference between the Cornish and the Devonshire cream tea and the cause of much controversy. If you want to know the correct way, why not read our etiquette tips below to discover the proper way to enjoy your cream tea.
HELPFUL HINT: don’t treat your clotted cream like butter and your scone will be all the better
Cream Tea etiquette tips
Loose-leaf is best. Brew loose leaves in a teapot, but remember to serve a second pot of hot water – just in case you’ve over-brewed.
If you don’t want to pour, don’t sit near the pot. The person nearest the pot should pour for everyone
Make the perfect brew. Allow the tea to brew for at least three minutes before pouring – time enough for the full flavour to infuse.
Tea before milk. Pour the tea first, followed by milk (so you can accurately judge the required strength) and then sugar.
Spoons on saucers, please. Once you’ve stirred, place your spoon on your saucer (think of the table cloth)
No outstretched pinkies! Always hold the cup between your thumb and forefinger. Contrary to popular opinion, sticking your little finger out does not a lady/gentleman make.
Simply break apart. The perfect scone should break apart with a simple twist! Just make sure you’ve got your saucer to catch the crumbs.
Spoon then spread. If the table is laden with bowls of jam and cream, spoon your desired amount onto your plate first, before spreading them thick on your scone.
Jam before cream. While there’s much debate around which goes first (a dispute dividing Cornwall and Devon), etiquette gurus Debrett's say you should spread your jam before dolloping cream on top.
A final word. Never use whipped cream. It’s utterly improper.
Cornish clotted cream - the food of the gods
William Gladstone 1809 - 1898