The History of Afternoon Tea at Searcys12 August 2021
Afternoon tea is a true ritual – a moment of pure indulgence to be enjoyed leisurely – and something we’re rather partial to here at Searcys. A quintessentially British activity, scones, finger sandwiches, tiny delicacies and three-tiered cake stands are all synonymous with historic houses across England. We’re delighted to be welcoming the guests to many of these iconic institutions, from Blenheim Palace to the famous Georgian Pump Room in Bath, welcoming guests for a delectable cup of tea, some sweet treats, and perhaps a glass of Searcys’ very own Selected Cuvee Champagne.
Afternoon tea at Searcys is a balance of old and new. In fact, the tradition is said to have begun in the 1800s, when the 7th Duchess of Bedford decided there was too long a gap between lunch and supper. Throughout the 19th century, it caught on quickly (who doesn’t love a beautiful cake and a cup of tea as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up?). Soon, the tradition became firmly rooted in society across England.
Our own story is intrinsically connected to this tradition. In the 1890s, a party hostess could order from the Searcys Afternoon Teas list a vast selection of baked goodies: Tea Cakes, Russians Red, Russians Brown, Venetians, Royal Hearts, Queen Cakes, Zephyrs, Dice Cakes, Belgravies, Rout Cakes, Reims, Savoys – all of which were kinds of sponge cake and Bath Buns, Shrewsbury Biscuits, Ratafias, Macaroons and Rusks. There were 14 kinds of Biscuits Francais, 12 Gateaux Francais, and four Plain Cakes including Tennis Cake at 1s 6d a pound. All in all, a veritable feast in the golden age of afternoon tea!
In 1920, the Queen Magazine wrote that “the company of Messrs Searcy, Tansley and Co is a godsend to the housekeeper. Should she be desirous of giving a party… all that is necessary is to ring up Victoria 2186 and discuss the matter with these experienced caterers. The cakes of Messrs Searcy have won a great reputation. A speciality of the firm is a biscuit called ‘Regina’”.
Nowadays, our afternoon teas are just as magnificent. Enjoy 360-degree panoramic views over the City of London as you graze on freshly baked scones at The Gherkin or a quirky afternoon tea at the famous Searcys Champagne Bar at St Pancras Brasserie and Champagne Bar. Wherever you are, Searcys is sure to deliver the same generous spirit and attention to detail.
Here’s a little treat from the Searcys archive, a historic recipe for Regina biscuits from the 1890s:
Searcys Regina biscuits
Makes 18 biscuits
2 free-range egg whites
110g caster sugar
60g ground almonds, sieved
60g unsalted butter, melted
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line 3 oven trays with baking parchment.
Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Gently fold in ground almonds. Then add butter and vanilla extract. Taking care to not knock out too much air from the mixture.
On the prepared trays, using the back of a spoon, spread 1 teaspoonful of mixture into discs about 3cm apart. Sprinkle the mixture lightly with the flaked almonds. Bake for about 5 minutes or until browned lightly around edges, I would recommend you do this one tray at a time to give you time to mould them once they are baked. The prepared raw discs will come to no harm whilst they wait to be baked.
The biscuits will be soft when they come out of the oven, so lift them quickly and carefully with a spatula, and place them immediately over a clean rolling pin or wine bottle to get a curved shape. They cool very quickly.
When cooled completely, transfer to an airtight container.
Wonderful with ice creams, mousses or fools, or as a treat with a good cup of tea or coffee.