Tea and Biscuits

In this land of great traditions, afternoon tea takes the biscuit, Comment by Lucy Denyer.

Published: 07th August 2015 09:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th August 2015 09:10 AM   |  A+A-


I have a plan, for when I'm old and possibly slightly senile, and can live in whatever odd and eccentric manner that I choose. It is this: that I will eat only two meals a day: breakfast and afternoon tea. Both meals can include almost anything, and both become deliciously indulgent when extended beyond the usual slice of toast or rich tea biscuit.

But I may have to bring my plan forward by a few years, for a new study has found that the habit of ingesting a small spot of something at around 4pm is falling by the wayside as we're all getting healthier. No longer are we enjoying a nice cuppa and something to dunk in it to counter that mid-afternoon slump; sales of tea have fallen by almost a quarter over the past five years, and biscuit consumption is down by 10 per cent. Instead, apparently, we are more likely to reach for the bottled water, and nibble on a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts.

Well, more fool us I say. Rather than cutting down on our afternoon indulgence, we should be pushing the boat out. Mumsnet may be obsessed with whether politicians favour a Jaffa Cake or a McVitie's dark chocolate digestive, but as far as I'm concerned, they're missing the point.

Because the beauty of afternoon tea lies in its glorious richness of opportunity. Have a nut if you must, or a biscuit or two. But far better to choose a scone, slathered with butter, jam and cream. Or a nice slice of Victoria sponge.

Too sugary? Never fear. There's little that can beat a freshly made egg sarnie, complete with a few wisps of cress; a buttery ham and mustard bun or a delicate smoked salmon triangle of an afternoon. At my sister's wedding last weekend, we celebrated with a proper tea: cake stands piled with sandwiches, followed by plate upon plate of beautifully presented delicacies, from fondant fancies to fruit cake, all washed down with gallons of Earl Grey served in the best china cups. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who is widely credited with coming up with the notion of afternoon tea in the 1800s, would have been proud - there was plenty there to stand up to "that sinking feeling" she complained of during the late afternoon, for which she required something small to satisfy her hunger and keep her propped up.

For surely this is the great benefit of the most magnificent of British traditions: the way that afternoon tea carries one through the post-lunch hours. The Americans don't do tea, but they eat their dinner at 6pm; those of us in Britain for whom the evening meal falls closer to 8pm need a little smackerel of something, as Winnie the Pooh might have put it, to keep us going until supper.

Bring it all back I say. Let's return to the days when tea rooms were all the rage; when meeting your friends for a cup of something was the thing to do. I'm baffled by the news that tea-drinking has "a rather uninspiring image" among the younger generation, when there are so many opportunities, from fancy china to complicated blends, to introduce a certain hip glamour. As for the saddening news that even pensioners are eschewing a slice of cake thanks to warnings about obesity, why don't we all dust off our dancing shoes and embrace a return to the tea dance, to burn off the calories?

And now, you must excuse me, it's getting on for 4pm. Kettle and scones call.


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