How did afternoon tea begin? - Cunard Cruise Line

Time for tea.

Afternoon tea is one of life's great pleasures. With Cunard, you'll find it a wonderful daily ritual which can be as lavish or as simple as you like.

‘There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.’ Henry James, Portrait of a Lady

In today’s busy world, there isn’t always much opportunity to indulge in this most refined of customs - but on a Cunard voyage, no such constraints apply.

Here we take a look at how this quintessential British repast first began - and what you can expect when it’s time to enjoy the very best afternoon tea.

An ancient custom.

While tea drinking dates back thousands of years in China, it was only when Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II in 1662 - bringing the precious leaves with her as part of her dowry - that tea consumption among the wealthy classes in Britain was first established.

However, it was almost 200 years before the concept of afternoon tea was introduced by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who in 1840 required a little sustenance to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner.

She requested that a tray of bread and butter, sweetmeats and a pot of tea be brought to her room in the late afternoon. Soon friends began to join her, and before long afternoon tea became a daily occasion in fashionable society.

Since then the time-honoured menu has evolved to include delicate finger sandwiches and savouries, warm scones with jam and clotted cream, and a selection of irresistible cakes and pastries - all served on fine china with starched linen.

A special treat.

Our ships provide a perfect environment to enjoy the ritual of afternoon tea while on holiday – the beautiful surroundings of the Queens Room, impeccable white-gloved service, and the melodic strains of a string trio or tinkling piano.

While the traditional elements are all present and correct, unique finishing touches and innovations ensure that Cunard’s Afternoon Tea stands out from the teatime crowd.

‘There’s our Cunard Macaron which is red and black, while a specially made branding iron finishes the top of each handmade scone with the ship’s logo,’ says Pastry Development Chef Alex Wibberley.

You could also have the opportunity to enjoy Cunard’s themed Afternoon Teas, such as the Japanese and Alaska Afternoon Teas inspired by these extraordinary destinations. During our Transatlantic Fashion Week event voyage, we offer a very special, fashion-inspired Afternoon Tea menu.

‘It’s this attention to detail that makes the occasion on board so memorable.’

Classic Cunard scone recipe.

Recreate the quintessentially British afternoon tea experience at home with this delicious scone recipe from our Executive Chef, Nick Oldroyd.

Ingredients for 12 scones.

500g plain flour

25g baking powder

125g diced butter

75g caster sugar

4 eggs

125ml whole milk

60g sultanas


◆ Take the flour, baking powder, butter and sugar to breadcrumb stage by either rubbing or using a paddle on a mixer
◆ Add the sultanas, mix again
◆ Add three of the eggs and the milk, and mix well
◆ Pat down on a lightly floured surface until smooth and leave to rest for 5 minutes
◆ Roll out to 2cm thick, turning after each push to even the tension in the dough
◆ Cut the scone mix out and place onto a paper lined tray
◆ Using the final egg, eggwash with the yolk and rest for a further ten minutes
◆ Bake at 180°C for approximately twelve minutes.

Crafting the perfect luxury scone.

Executive Chef Nick Oldroyd provides you with a behind the scenes look at crafting our signature Cunard scone.

Nick's top tip: 'The Golden Rule is to not to over work the dough and give sufficient resting time after mixing and forming the scone dough and then again when you have rolled out and cut into the desired shape; about 5 minutes for each stage. Always use egg yolk for glazing as this gives a delightful golden brown crust and a great enriched flavour and end result.'

Teatime titbits.

Every day across the fleet:

2,000 Afternoon Teas are served.
6,000 cups of tea are poured.
4,000 finger sandwiches are made.
3,000 scones are handmade from scratch.
8,000 linen napkins are laundered and starched.

Afternoon Tea is served daily at 3.30pm on all of our ships.

Inspired, by Cunard.