This past week, my daughter and I saw Victoria & Abdul at the Paris Theatre in New York City. In the movie Queen Victoria has to sit through many stuffy meals and ceremonies. The only meals she truly seemed to enjoy are teas. We had to see why she enjoyed it so much, so we went to a traditional tea the at the Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court across the street. I learned most Americans use the wrong term for the fancy tradition of tea in the afternoon.
With 300 years and an ocean between us, I’m always amused by the cultural differences between America and England. For instance, “fanny” has a shockingly different meaning in the UK. And Americans are now known as a raucous nation, on the run with our coffee, while the English are still known for the more dignified custom of sitting down to tea. But did you know that coffee predates tea in England?
Here are some fun facts I learned.
- Although tea was always popular in China, it didn’t arrive in England until the 1600’s after King Charles II married Catherine of Portugal. I guess Catherine preferred tea.
- The popularity that tea quickly gained, was distressful to many. Tavern owners lost alcohol sales. And the government’s tax revenues from alcohol decreased. Charles II initially tried to prevent tea’s spread, by forbidding sales to private homes.
- Early in the 1700’s Queen Anne helped popularize tea. She preferred tea, over ale, with her morning meal – talk about a teetotaler!
- High Tea, sounds really fancy, doesn’t it? It’s not. Americans often get it wrong. During the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s, workers came home later from work. Their last meal of the day, with hearty meat pies and dinner fare, was eaten while sitting at a “high” dining table, as opposed to lounging around at “low“ tea or coffee tables. Hence, it was called “High Tea.”
- While High Tea is a full meal, Afternoon Tea, is more of a snack between meals. It was introduced by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford in 1800’s. Nobles ate a rather late evening meal and she was tired of being famished at 4 o’clock. At first she started sneaking these snacks, then she started inviting other ladies to join her.
I can tell you, the Afternoon Tea served at the Plaza’s Palm Court is not merely a snack. It is a heavy sampling of sweets and finger sandwiches that will leave you satisfied. If you’re in New York City area before October 22nd, and want to see a fun movie about other cultural differences, check out Victoria & Abdul at the Paris Theatre. The theater is right across the street from the Plaza Hotel. With your ticket stub, you can indulge a free glass of champagne with of an Afternoon Tea, or receive a special Rose Tea Cake with any evening cocktail or meal.
Photo Sources: Focus Feature and Victoria & Abdul
Sources: What’s cooking America, Blueglobal.com & Britishexpress.com