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Cornish cream tea: jam or cream first?

Where and when did the tradition of cream tea originate? When eating scones, does jam go first or does clotted cream go first? How do you mix your tea? And do you add milk before or after pouring your tea?

Afternoon tea is probably one of the most well-known British institutions across the world. But the answers to these questions, with counties taking sides and being uncompromising about their strong views, have been dividing the country for centuries. Here at Brigit's Bakery, we try not to get too involved with these long-lasting debates. And that’s probably because we offer Afternoon Tea with a French twist – something you can enjoy both at Brigit’s Bakery Covent Garden or on one of our Bus Tours. But we know our customers love learning what tradition and etiquette say about Cornish cream tea: jam or cream first?

cornish cream tea: jam or cream first at afternoon tea

Cream tea or afternoon tea?

With very few traditions more British than afternoon tea, it’s time we dig a bit deeper into the Cornwall v Devon debate. Where does this come from and when did it start? According to some sources, it was Catherine of Braganza, the wife of King Charles II in the late 1600s who first started the tradition. But it’s thanks to the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 that afternoon tea became an established social occasion amongst the higher class. The Duchess was mainly after a way to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. And apparently, the men were out drinking and hunting during the day, so it wasn’t unusual for the ladies to get together and enjoy each other’s company. (And, may we dare, have a good natter?!)

So is there a difference between cream tea and afternoon tea? As it turns out, yes. Cream tea is scones with clotted cream and (strawberry) jam and a lovely cup of tea. Traditionally, afternoon tea is a bit richer. On top of tea and scones, an afternoon tea also offers sandwiches and yummy cakes. ‘Royal tea’ is yet another type of tea, which includes champagne and is traditionally associated with special occasions. At Brigit's Bakery we’re all for making occasions special (and adding a little twist to the best of traditions). So we came up with the idea of an unmissable Gin Lovers Afternoon Tea. Who knows? Gin afternoon tea may become a British institution in years to come. We’re certainly working on that.

Cornish cream tea: jam or cream first?

So when it comes to cream tea, what goes on your scones first? Cream or jam?

Ask the Cornish, and they will tell you that the whole point of cream tea is to have freshly-baked (hopefully still warm) scones, with jam first and clotted cream on top.

Ask a Devonian, and they’ll tell you it's cream first and jam on top.

While the Cornish method seems to have been adopted in some of the most renowned London afternoon tea institutions, the Devon way of cream first and jam on top has been adopted further afield in Commonwealth countries. In Cornish homes, it’s not unusual for scones to be replaced by the ‘Cornish split’, a type of slightly sweet bread roll. While, in Devon, of course, they use the ‘Devon split’, which is lighter than a scone and smaller than a Cornish split.

Will Cornish people ever approve of the Devonian method? Probably not. Just like Devonians will never approve of the Cornish way. This ‘split’ will definitely stand the test of time. Now, we don’t want to take sides here and get into any sort of trouble, but according to royal chef Darren McGrady, who worked for the royal family until 1993, it’s jam first at Buckingham Palace garden parties. Home-made Balmoral jam, to be precise. But don’t shoot the messenger!

And while this life’s ongoing debate carries on, so are other ‘hot issues’ surrounding the cream tea and afternoon tea traditions.

cornish cream tea: jam or cream first on a scone

The cream tea etiquette

At Brigit's Bakery, we understand the importance of traditions, so we've previously teamed up with Debrett’s, the authority on modern British etiquette. For a whole month, we offered our customers a unique opportunity to take our Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. We thought this was the best way to celebrate the royal marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and had a guide on board all our Routemaster bus tours sharing facts about the history of royal weddings as well as the traditions and rituals of formal afternoon tea.

So what exactly did our customers find out?

  1. First things first, keep your pinky at bay. When you drink your tea, it’s tradition not to stick your pinky out.
  2. Do you pick up the saucer or leave it on the table? Well, that depends on the height of the table. If it’s very low, then you need your saucer. If it’s high, you can just pick up your cup.
  3. What about the spoon? Spoon on the saucer, please.
  4. And whatever you do, remember to stir your tea with a back and forth motion (not circular) and, fundamentally, without bashing the sides of the cup!
  5. When having your afternoon tea, you eat your sandwiches first and your cakes last.
  6. Break the scones with your hands – not your knife – and be sure you’re not seen sandwiching the two halves back together. It’s not a burger!
cornish cream tea: jam or cream first
cornish cream tea jam or cream first: how to break a scone when enjoying cream tea

As for the milk, is it milk first or tea first?

Well, what came first? The chicken or the egg? We’re afraid this is another conundrum that we can’t resolve. Apparently, there are benefits in having the milk first. The cold milk will prevent the china from cracking and may (or may not) allow for a better combination of the two types of liquid. Truth be told, you’ll find sources that claim milk should be poured first and others that say tea should definitely go first. And to be fair, some advise you should drink tea with no milk at all! So what’s one to do?

Enjoy your afternoon tea

We have news for you. At Brigit's Bakery, we don’t send the afternoon tea police after you. Whatever you choose to do, we want you to have fun. So make sure you don’t let rules and regulations ruin the experience for you – just embrace it and enjoy it. We know better than to take sides, so just experiment and see what you like best. Feel free to try jam first and cream on top – the Cornish way. Or try the other way round – the Devonian way. Up to you. As long as you enjoy it, we’ve done our job.

Whether you come and visit us in Covent Garden at our Brigit’s Bakery or book on one of our Brigit's Bus Tours, we promise we’ll let you enjoy the experience, whatever it is you’re after. Just pick the afternoon tea experience that you feel more drawn to. Here’s what we offer:

  • Afternoon Tea Bus Tour – our vintage Routemaster buses will drive you through the streets of Central London while you sip on a lovely cup of tea and indulge in an array of tasty sandwiches and delicious cakes and pastries.
  • Gin Lovers Afternoon Tea – you get to combine our Afternoon Tea Bus Tour and high tea with delicious complimentary G&Ts (suitable for 18+ years).

And if you book on one of our Afternoon Tea Bus Tours between mid November and early January, we’ll take you to see the Christmas lights too.

Dietary Options for our Afternoon Tea

We offer Afternoon Tea for those with specific dietary requirements. Use the links below to see menus for Vegan, Vegetarian, Halal and Gluten-free teas.

Traditional Afternoon Tea
Vegan Afternoon Tea

Vegetarian Afternoon Tea
Halal Afternoon Tea
Gluten-free Afternoon Tea

So, will you be choosing Brigit's Bakery for your next afternoon tea? And most importantly, will you try jam first or cream first?

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