Dear Duchess

The story of British afternoon tea and our new Bedford’s Best Darjeeling

Any time of day is a good time for tea, as far as we’re concerned. But an afternoon tea break has gone down in history as one of the most beloved tea times of all (rivaled only by that cup of wake-up tea first thing in the morning). Perhaps nobody can beat the British when it comes to doing afternoon tea, combining a pot of steaming tea with snacks both sweet and savory. And for that great British tradition, we have one woman to thank.

duchess_of_bedford

She was born simply as Anna Stanhope, but an aristocratic destiny was in the stars. With her 1808 marriage to Francis Russell, 7th Duke of Bedford, Anna earned a new title: the Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess filled a number of curious roles during her aristocratic life: “Lady of the Bedchamber” to Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1841, for example, and “Chief Mourner” at the funeral of Princess Augusta Sophia in 1840. Undoubtedly her greatest role, however, and one for which she’s gone down in history, is as creator of the afternoon tea tradition.

In the 1840s, while staying at the castle of her friend the Duke of Rutland – the story goes – the good Duchess fell prey to an affliction hardly befitting of her noble status: she got hungry. Hangry, even. Finding the gap between the light midday luncheon and the 8 p.m. dinner left her feeling rather famished, she requested her maid to bring some refreshments to her chambers to accompany her afternoon cuppa, something to curb the unladylike rumbling of her stomach. A couple dainty crustless sandwiches, perhaps; a scone or two, and a sweet biscuit to nibble on. Anna, ever the social butterfly, was soon inviting her friends to join her for the mid-afternoon repast. Given that her inner circle included none other than Queen Victoria, who grew fond of the habit and began performing it herself back at Buckingham Palace, the tradition soon became a trendy social ritual and a lasting addition to British culture.

It’s in the Duchess’s honor that we’ve renamed our finest Darjeeling, the bright, florid varietal that has long been the preferred afternoon tea of the Brits. Bedford’s Best, formerly known as Risheehat, is an exceptionally fruity first-flush Indian black tea with a flavor palette so refined, it’s known as the “champagne of Darjeelings.” We enjoy the fine and well-rounded bouquet of Bedford’s Best all on its own, though the quintessentially British addition of milk and sugar add a certain something as well. Fine porcelain and a scone or two are optional, of course, but the Duchess would be proud.

Bedford's Best

The “champagne of Darjeelings” indeed.

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