Cream tea refers to practice of having tea with scones and clotted cream. A truly British practice coming out of the afternoon teas, or high teas, made popular by the Duchess of Bedford in the early 1800’s. The practice of afternoon tea became extremely popular by the mid-1800’s, even spreading to the United States.
What is Cream Tea
Afternoon tea became popular at the same time that the railroad expanded in London. Londoners would get on the train and spend the weekend along the southern coast of England. It was in the West Country of England (actually the southwest part of England along the British Channel), which encompasses Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Somerset, that brought the term of cream tea into the British lexicon. The local restaurants and pubs, in catering to the weekend tourists turned afternoon tea into cream tea.
This area of England was and still is well known for their lamb, beef and cheese production. Their use of local ingredients for the food at the afternoon teas created huge demand, especially for the clotted cream, which is best described as whipped cream meets butter. Keeping in mind that refrigeration had not come along yet, clotted cream would have been a true treat. It does not keep for more than a few days, even in modern refrigeration. So if you can imagine having something like frosting, without the sugar, on top of your scone in a time where nothing like that existed you can understand why it came to be called cream tea. And they always added jam to give it sweetness. Welcome to where the 3-4 pm sugar and caffeine fix came from in European and American culture!
Modern Cream Tea
Cream tea is still alive and well in the West Country of England. There are even debates on whose clotted cream is better, Devon or Cornwall. So if you should ever find yourself on the southern coast of England, stop into the tea shops and enjoy the original clotted cream. If you want to make your own, here is a recipe that doesn’t require the use of the stove top.