Where Did Cream Tea Come From?

National Cream Tea Day 2023 is on 30th June so we thought we’d dig out the old history books and look into where Cream Tea came from…

It doesn’t take us much of an excuse for us talk about Cream Tea or Afternoon Tea here at the Bank House Hotel, Spa & Golf Club. Quite frankly, we love it, and given we have a reputation for one of the best Afternoon Teas in Worcester, I’m sure you’ll forgive us. It’s a great British tradition that only seems to be getting more popular and we couldn’t be happier.

Before we delve into the origins of Cream Tea, many people still confuse Afternoon Tea and Cream Tea. So, here’s the difference.

What is Cream Tea?

Cream Tea

Cream Tea is a scone with jam and clotted cream served with a pot of tea. Simple and delicious.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon is similar to a Cream Tea; it includes scones and tea, but is also served with a selection of finger sandwiches, pastries, cakes and other sweet treats. Also delicious, but that’s a story for another day.

So where did Cream Tea come from?

The origin of Cream Tea is much disputed. Ask someone from Devon or Cornwall and you’ll likely be involved in a rather heated debate about it.

The earliest record of ‘Cream Tea’ seems to be from the 11th century. Although it wasn’t called Cream Tea, it is reported that when Tavistock Abbey in Devon was being restored after damage caused by the Vikings in 997AD, the local workers were fed bread with clotted cream and strawberry preserve by the monks of the Abbey. It became so popular that the monks went on to serve this to travellers passing by too.

It became really popular during a tourism boom in the 1850s when the first railways were introduced in the UK. Visitors travelled south looking to relax and indulge, and many hotels, tearooms and cafes started serving cream teas using their locally-sourced produce.

What about the actual scones?

The 11th century version of Cream Tea is clearly different to the treat we know today, but it’s not actually known when the actual scones (we’re not even going to get involved in the debate of how to pronounce it!) were used instead of the traditional bread.

Scones date way back to the 16th century and history suggests we have either have the Dutch or the Scots to thank for their creation. The Dutch word ‘Schoonbrood’ means fine white bread, while our friends north of the border used a Gaelic word of ‘sgonn’, meaning shapeless mass or large or large mouthful.

Either way, none of it is conclusive and there’s no real note of when it got added to a Cream or Afternoon Tea.

When did the tea get added?

Afternoon Tea

Although tea was drunk in Europe in the 16th century, it is considered that it didn’t become a popular drink in the UK until the 17th century in 1660.

It was introduced to King Charles II by the British East India Company and was a particular favourite of his Portuguese wife-to-be, Catherine of Braganza. So much so that it was served at their wedding, and it became fashionable among the ladies of the court.

Drinking tea became popular amongst the aristocracy in the years that followed and that lead it to becoming commonly served in coffee houses in the 17th century.

Unfortunately, it’s not known when it got added to an actual Cream Tea. The increasing popularity of both drinking tea and eating scones follow a relatively similar timeline and it’s clearly common sense to put the two together. We’re just glad that someone did. 

If you want to enjoy a delicious Cream Tea at the Bank House Hotel in Worcester, you can do for just £9.95 per person and we don’t mind if you prefer to put the cream or the jam on first, or how you pronounce scones!

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