A History of the Cream Tea
The cream tea, also known as Devon cream tea, Devonshire tea or Cornish cream tea is a popular combination of tea served with scones, jam and clotted cream. This article will look at what makes up a cream tea, the controversial surrounding it and also its recent rise in popularity.
What's in a cream tea?
Most cream teas will include two sweet scones served sliced in half. Many tea rooms and restaurants will serve round hand-baked scones. In a cream tea, plain scones will most commonly be served. If you are extremely fortunately the scones will be fresh out of the oven and still warm.
The scone itself has quite a history behind it – despite its popular association with the South West (mostly due to cream teas) the scone is thought to have originated in Scotland as a flat bread type cake. There are many variations of British scones in both sweet and savory flavors including contracts, dates, raisins, cheese or bacon.
2. Clotted cream
Famously associated with South West England, clotted cream is made by heating unpasteurised full cream milk and then letting it cool slowly, causing the thickened cream to rise to the top. The result is a smooth, rich flavor which has a thick appearance but feels surprisingly light to consume.
Clotted Cream is claimed to have originated from Cornwall but in 500BC Phoenicians (which is known today as Lebanon and Syria) sailed to the South West of England to claim Cornish tin, in return they bought their cream making skills and exchanged it with locals for tin . Similar products are still produced in Lebanon and Afghanistan today, this could well be the origins of the first clotted cream, although their product is known as kaymak.
A good reserve is an essential ingredient and probably the least controversial – strawberry jam is widely accepted as the flavor of choice.
A good pot of tea is an essential accompaniment to a cream tea and compliments the sweet flavor of the jam. Many people would recommend the tea is taken without sugar to fully appreciate the combination of flavors.
Tea originally came from Asia but adopted by the British during the British Empire rule throughout the 19th century. They established large scale tea plants in India ending China's tea monopoly and creating Britain's well known association with Tea.
Cream Tea Combination
The first time these ingredients were combined to create this delicacy is always up for debt. The earliest time that they have found cream teas to be consumed, is as early as 997 AD. They found that old manuscript from monks of the local Benedictine Abbey in Tavistock stated, during 997AD Vikings had attacked the Abbey stealing treasures from the monks, which caused damage to the Abbey. So while it was being restored the monks are said to of fed bread, clotted cream and strawberry preserves to the workers, especially accrediting Devon with the first ever Cream Tea.
For such an innocent looking indulgence this delicacy has much controversy surrounding almost every aspect of its make-up. There's the correct way to pronounce 'scone', whether it originated in Devon or Cornwall and that's before we get onto the cream vs. jam first debate. A seemingly innocuous question you might think but it often leads to heated discussions – offices, dinner parties, even families are divided by the dispute.
In Cornwall it's traditionally the jam which goes on first, topped with a spoonful of clotted cream whilst across the border in Devon, the cream is spread on the scone first and then jam layered on top.
Many bakers and café owners have recently experienced an increase in sales of the classic scone. Some of them are attributing it to the rising trendiness of 'Britishness' and let's be clear – scones are as British as rain and queuing. This summer has seen a few events which could have been responsible in part for a growth in affection towards traditional British traditions – the royal wedding, BBC2's Great British Bake Off and Wimbledon to name a few.
For those not living in the South West of England, a real cream tea might be hard to come by, you might be able to buy all the constituent parts in your local supermarket but it's not going to have the same flavor. Thankfully, some folks down in Cornwall have come to the rescue so you can order yours by post all year round.
Order a cream tea by post
The cream tea is, for many, an essential part of any trip to Cornwall – two handmade scones sliced in half and generously topped with strawberry jam and clotted cream, to be accompanied with a cup of tea.