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the agency's brief was to write blog content of 1200 to 1500 words to promote their client's promotion of afternoon tea

If you thought that Afternoon Tea was a stuffy tradition that disappeared with the demise of Downton Abbey, think again. XXXX Lounge have put the sizzle into scones and the fun into finger sandwiches. Afternoon Tea is the “must do” of 2017.

Naturally, being XXXX Lounge means that we never ignore our roots. What else would you expect from London’s leading shisha venue? For a start, we have chosen a selection of the finest aromatic, saffron infused Iranian teas. These range from the more traditionally flavoured black tea (Oriental Zest with rose hip petals and cinnamon), through the invigorating fruit of Royal Brew (apple and cinnamon); to the seductive confection of Lush (red tea leaves with wild red strawberries), and Nirvana - our version of tea heaven - orange blossoms, Persian rose hip petals, lemon verbena, lavender and borage leaves. 

Of course, Afternoon Tea can never be complete without warm, homemade scones and a mouthwateringly generous helping of strawberry jam. Here at XXXX Lounge we pride ourselves upon being innovative, but there are some traditions with which you simply cannot mess. And warm scones with jam is definitely one of them! 

One common misconception about Afternoon Tea is that finger sandwich fillings have to be dainty, verging on the anodyne. They don’t. We have added some bold flavours to our selection of freshly made sandwiches, like coronation chicken and succulent sweet corn, alongside traditional favourites like sea-fresh salmon and rich cream cheese. As you sip your third cup of tea (yes, sip - we will get back to that later) it is well nigh impossible to resist our XXXX-inspired selection of divine mini pastries that flaunt themselves coquettishly on the table before you. My personal favourite is filled with chocolate cream and berries. But hey, don’t let me sway you: that is simply where I start my own diet-defying tour of the pastry platter. 

I guess that by now you’ll have noticed that we use the phrase Afternoon Tea, rather than the commonly misapplied High Tea. The reason for this is simple. Outside of the United Kingdom, people often use the terms synonymously, referring to afternoon tea as high tea and vice versa. But like many ideas that have taken root in our daily lives, it is utterly mistaken. In fact High Tea is, more often than not, a total misnomer. Warm scones, delicate pastries and finger sandwiches do not a high tea maketh. At least, not in any traditional or historical sense. Ok smart ass, I hear you say, what is High Tea? Well, traditionally, High Tea was a working class English meal served on a high table (yes, seriously - a high table) at the end of the working day, usually between 5 and 6 p.m.; and sometimes referred to as “meat tea” or, as we might say nowadays, dinner. But why let history interfere with a good story (or a good name)? After all, ‘High Tea’ sounds extremely posh. Unless, of course, you have the misfortune to be living next to the tea-drinking occupants of a crack house; in which case it has a totally different connotation. Many of you reading this have probably experienced that linguistic faux pas firsthand in American hotels and tea rooms, where they continue to offer ‘High Tea’ that includes tidbits of fancy pastries and cakes on delicate china. But then, I doubt if you find that little transatlantic liberty with history to be in any sense surprising. 

Naturally, if High Tea is basically a meat dinner with a large mug of builders tea, what essentially makes an Afternoon Tea? And why has the tradition etched its way into the consciousness of millennials (and those who can barely remember even being millennials) in 2017? Well, for a start it was known as ‘Low Tea’ because it was served on a set of low tables. Sounds obvious, right? And ‘Afternoon’? Yup, you guessed it. Because it was usually taken in the late afternoon (between 4 and 5 - staying until after 7 was just “not done”), it became pretty logical to call it ‘Afternoon Tea. So where did this ‘low tea’ moniker spring from? Think about it and, once again, the answer is pretty obvious. It was usually taken in a large sitting room or drawing room where low tables (akin to a coffee table) were placed near sofas or high backed, chintzy chairs. Traditionally, there were always three distinct types of Afternoon Tea:

Cream Tea – Tea, scones, jam and cream

Light Tea –    Tea, scones and sweets

Full Tea –      Tea, savories, scones, sweets and dessert

Most tea rooms of the 21st century serve tea from 3 to 5 o’clock.  The menu has also changed from tea, bread, butter and cakes, to include three particular courses served in a very specific order:

Savories – tiny sandwiches or appetizers 

Scones –   served with jam and Devonshire or clotted cream

Pastries –  cakes, cookies, and possibly shortbread and/or sweets

According to legend, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is often credited with creating the whole concept of teatime in the afternoon. For reasons best known to HM Queen Vic and her chefs, lunch was taken at noon sharp, and had begun diminishing to the point where it was little more than a snack. Unsurprisingly, said Duchess began suffering hunger pangs at about four o’clock in the afternoon, which of course meant she was more likely to keel over from a lack of food than execute a cute curtsey. As the Queen was not easily amused, the whole paraphernalia of teapot, cakes and bread were surreptitiously smuggled into the Duchess’s chamber. Eventually, her little secret (like almost every other secret in the history of mankind) began to leak into her most intimate circle. Copying a French format (Believe it or not, tea had been very popular in France during the 17th and early 18th centuries), she invited friends to join her for a “late afternoon repast” (posh talk for something to eat) at five o’clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets and, of course, tea.  This summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, inviting friends to join her for “tea and a walk in the fields.” Talking of which, XXXX Lounge abuts the one hundred acres of XXXX Park, including an arboretum and the home of the 12th Duke of Northumberland - the perfect location to stroll away those Afternoon Tea calories

Because it was the preserve of the privileged classes Afternoon Tea involved a strict set of rules; most of which seem strangely foreign in the modern world: things like a surfeit of expensive lace, dainty food and a forbidding list of social etiquette. Any aspect of this was transgressed at a guest’s peril. Which brings us back to my deliberate use of the word “sip.” Historically, afternoon tea was considered to be a ladies' social occasion. And the only way any ‘respectable lady of quality’ (history’s words not mine!) would drink tea is to slowly and inaudibly sip. It’s enough to make this writer want to hire that De Lorean from “Back to the Future”, roar unceremoniously along newly macadamized roads and slurp my tea noisily in drawing rooms all around the country.  

Indeed, etiquette went so far as to determine how a teacup must be held in polite society. In the Duchess of Bedford’s day teacups were handle-free, so in order not to spill hot tea all over your crinoline, the only safe way to hold a cup was to place your thumb at the six o’clock position and your index and middle fingers at the twelve o’clock position, while gently raising your pinkie for balance. Oh, and never wave or hold your tea cup in the air! When not in use, place the tea cup back in the saucer. Now for the spoon: do not stir your tea with your teaspoon in sweeping circular motions. (As if!) Place your tea spoon at the six o’clock position and softly “fold” the tea towards the twelve o’clock position two or three times. Now imagine trying to do all that while texting your mates! 

But perhaps the essential beauty of Afternoon Tea at XXXX Lounge in 2017 is that we can treasure an ancient tradition without being manacled by outmoded rules - aromatic tea, finger sandwiches with intense flavours and pastries to die for. Even Violet Crawley might crack a smile. After all, our windows gaze out at acre upon acre of parkland as impressive as Downton Abbey. To paraphrase Will Wordsworth, “Afternoon Tea hath not anything to show more fair!” If anyone out there has the mobile number of a descendant of our old friend the Duchess of Bedford, please let me know and I will text her an invite while discreetly sipping my fourth cup of aromatic herbal tea.