In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Tea time is an expression used to refer to the afternoon tea ritual. Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 4 pm and 6 pm, although it is internationally known to be taken at 5 o’clock sharp.
The custom had its origins among the wealthy classes in England around the decade of 1840. Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is usually credited as transforming afternoon tea in England into a late-afternoon meal whilst visiting Belvoir Castle. Charles II of England’s wife Catherine of Braganza is also a relevant character in this matter, since she is often credited with introducing tea to the court upon her arrival in 1662.
Facts are that by the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea developed to its current form. At that time, the custom was already observed by both the upper and middle classes, although there were different reasons why they followed this tradition.
It is believed that loose tea should be brewed in a teapot and served with milk and sugar in order to observe the custom correctly. But it is known that the sugar and caffeine present in this drink was meant to provide fortification against afternoon doldrums for the working poor of 19th and early 20th century England, who had a significantly lower calorie count and more physically demanding occupation than most Westerners today.
For labourers, the tea was sometimes accompanied by a small sandwich or baked snack that had been packed in the morning and taken to work. For the more privileged, afternoon tea was accompanied by luxury ingredient sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and usually cakes and pastries.