I have taken this time to reflect on what appears to have been a daily ritual, a summer time party, and a way of life for Queen Elizabeth II.
The Afternoon Tea
In her years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II consistently held a daily teatime ritual. The Queen would host friends, family, entertainers, honored community volunteers, dignitaries, and other honored guests that the Queen saw fit to invite for tea in her residences. Perhaps the Queen would use tea time as a time to connect with people similarly to, or akin to, meeting someone for a game of golf here in the United States. Probably a bit of business, or catching up on noteworthy news from family and friends, or adroitly guided conversations occurred over a royal cup of tea.
Afternoon tea would most likely be served at 5:00 in the afternoon, although conflicting start times was noted in varying sources. The dress code for the tea would be less formal with women wearing dresses, no hats required, and men wearing suits. Darren McGrady, former personal chef to Queen Elizabeth would explain “ every day at tea time she would have a cut cake (sliced cake), small cakes like eclairs or raspberry tartlets, and then scones: one day plain, the next day fruit. And two types of sandwiches consisting of smoked salmon, Sage Derby cheese and tomato, or jam pennies.” Jam pennies are sandwiches with raspberry jam in the middle and cut into circles about the size of the lid on a salad dressing bottle. The name was derived from the fact that the sandwiches are basically the size of an old English penny.
The Queen’s favorite blend of tea was either Earl Grey or an Assam tea according to her former butler Grant Harold. He stated the Queen would steep “her tea in the traditional way, made with leaves in a teapot and poured into a fine bone china tea cup.” A strainer placed over the cup would catch the loose tea leaves while pouring the tea from the teapot. Fine bone china cups were used as tea service. The Queen would pour milk in last, after the tea was poured into the teacup.
Summertime heralded in a long standing tradition with the Queen. Over one million people had been hosted at her garden parties through the years. Three garden parties were held yearly at Buckingham Palace in London, and one garden party was held annually at Holyrood House in Scotland. Honored invitees were people who had been involved in public service of some sort. Around 30,000 attendees each summer, until recently, had the chance to meet the Queen and other members of the royal family, while walking around the beautiful gardens of Buckingham Palace or Holyrood House. Music floated through the air from one of two military bands playing outside.
The dress code was formal with women in dresses with hats, or fascinators. Men were expected to wear a suit or a morning suit. The coat of a morning suit is cut away at the waist, extended in the back, and with a single breasted button.
The food at the garden parties consisted of finger sandwiches, for example watercress or egg sandwiches. Slices of cakes and mini cakes, or eclairs were served as a sweet addition to the sandwiches. Of course tea was served at the garden parties, along with coffee. In fact, each year at the garden parties roughly 27,000 cups of tea were served, along with close to 20,000 cake slices and tea sandwiches.
Famous Guests Invited To Tea
People from all over the world have been invited to have tea with the Queen, either in the gardens or one of her residences. Numerous Prime Ministers of England, Heads of State, and United States Presidents have received invitations to tea with the Queen. Various entertainers have been invited to tea with Queen Elizabeth, with several examples including Helen Mirren, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Her most famous and unique tea time guest stopped by Buckingham Palace this past summer for a spot of tea. The beloved children’s story character Paddington Bear, made an appearance before the Queen. He and Queen Elizabeth were videoed chatting while enjoying a cup of tea and marmalade sandwiches. I never received an invitation to tea with Queen Elizabeth and never expected to either. However, I like to think that if I had ever received an invitation to tea with Queen Elizabeth, I would be more careful with the china teapot and teacup than Paddington Bear!
May you spend time enjoying a cup of tea with others, perhaps inviting them over for a cup of tea. Who knows, you may find a famous bear with a red hat stopping by for a cup of tea. A word of advice: It would be best to have copious amounts of honey on hand for Paddington bear’s tea time visit.
Enjoying a cup of tea in my garden in honor of HM Queen Elizabeth II,
Sykes, Tom. What It’s Like To Have Tea With The Queen. October 21, 2017. www.thedailybeast.com.
Wilson, Stephanie. Queen Elizabeth Afternoon Tea Recipes. May 31, 2022. www.31daily.com.
About The Author
Leslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea. No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!