Dirt, Sweat & Cucumber Sandwiches – Afternoon Tea in England

Afternoon Tea at The Cranley

Afternoon Tea at The Cranley

A clock plods through its strict rhythm as the clink of china echoes through the drawing room. A Union Jack plays hide-and-seek at the window when the teapot isn’t watching and a platter of cucumber sandwiches make themselves comfy for afternoon tea.

It’s hard to play tourist in your own country. Particularly when your own country’s customs derive from other countries and when even the question of which country you come from turns a straightforward question into a geopolitical Sudoku. England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Wales. They’re not the same thing, in case you were wondering…

Jammy Dodger Avoids Afternoon Tea

Jammy Dodger - Waiting Upstairs

I’m at The Cranley, a luxury boutique hotel in the devilishly handsome London borough of Kensington & Chelsea. Upstairs waits a four-poster bed with free wifi, a fluffy dressing gown and that quintessential British biscuit the Jammy Dodger, sidling up to its old ally, the plain digestive. But they can wait…

Right now, I’m sitting here enjoying Afternoon Tea and reflecting on the unusual journey of those small brown leaves.

Afternoon Tea Around the World

Afternoon Tea in Malaysia

Afternoon Tea in Malaysia

Just a few weeks ago, I stood in the sweaty hills of the Cameron Highlands, where shrubs tickled the ridges and contours of the tea plantations that rise and fall across central Malaysia.

We walked between them, the sun pressing against our skins, the hum of insects and scattered birdsong crowding into our jet-lagged minds.

Behind panes of glass, tea leaves withered, rolled, fermented and then dried themselves before freshening up and hopping into packets ready to travel the world.

Malaysia is hardly the world’s top tea producer. Yet, back in London, scone in hand, I remembered just how Asian this English custom is.

Afternoon Tea in Japan

Afternoon Tea in Japan

Afternoon Tea in Asia

In Japan I knelt on the floor, kneecaps howling, as a woman performed the Karantei Tea Ceremony in Matsushima. There tea came with rice cakes and perfection, served on a tatami mat.

In China, men carried around jam jars, sloshing with a warm cocktail of pond juice that tasted surprisingly good.

And in the Boh plantation in central Malaysia, tea came with the offer of a Firecracker hot dog.

English Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

English Afternoon Tea

Here in The Cranley, Afternoon Tea obeys the traditional English customs.

Juicy strawberries with scones dusted in the softest white sugar. Plum, cream and chocolate treats beneath the twinkle of the chandelier. Silver tongs for rough-edged cubes of sugar and paper doilies resting provocatively on gleaming plates.

And among this elegant feast of cakes and tea, fresh salmon and chopped egg sandwiches, I find the component that mystifies me still: the near tasteless and always soggy fingers of cucumber sandwiches.

I think it’s time we took on another Asian tradition. Rice cakes anyone?

Cucumber Sandwiches at Afternoon Tea

Cucumber Sandwiches at Afternoon Tea

This article first appeared on Inside the Travel Lab. Head there to read more about unusual experiences from around the world.

Disclosure: I received a special rate for my Afternoon Tea at The Cranley and in Matsushima. Nothing from the Jammy Dodger Foundation though…

Have you had afternoon tea before? And would you admit to liking cucumber sandwiches?

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3 Responses to “Dirt, Sweat & Cucumber Sandwiches – Afternoon Tea in England”

  1. Jean | Delightful Repast
    November 17, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    Abigail, I give (and go out for) afternoon teas all the time. I seldom (actually, never!) am served a cucumber sandwich as good as my own. I guarantee you would love MY cucumber sandwiches!

    • Abi
      February 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      Good to learn that there is hope for the cucumber sandwich yet, then!


  1. English afternoon – The History Of The Afternoon Tea - Tea Blogs | Tea Blogs - October 29, 2011

    [...] found on sites such as Food and Drink Information. Topics range from meal plans to how to cook rice.If there is an English Breakfast tea, there is also an English Afternoon tea. This concept is well k…rnoon tea dates back to the 1840s and the English afternoon tea evolved from the rituals of tea [...]

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