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The Great Cream Tea Debate

cream tea

What goes into Cream Tea in Devon and Cornwall?

Welcome to the delightful world of cream teas! This classic British tradition of scones, jam, and clotted cream is a regular ritual across Devon and Cornwall. But the age-old question remains – jam or cream first? Let’s dive into the history, ingredients, and friendly rivalry behind the cream tea.

cream tea

A Little History

The tradition can be traced back to the 11th century in Devon and Cornwall. Back then, the bread-based snack was a welcome refreshment for workers in the field. The addition of jam and clotted cream came later, though the origins are hazy.

The term “cream tea” first appeared in print in the 1870s. But it wasn’t until the late 1800s, with the rise of tourism, that they really took off. Tea rooms sprang up across Devon and Cornwall to cater to visitors longing for a taste of this rural treat.

The Vital Ingredients

So what exactly constitutes a proper cream tea? At its core, you need these three key ingredients:

Scones

The base of the cream tea is always scones. But not just any scone! The best are still handmade the traditional way – lightly sweetened, delicately risen, and baked to a golden finish. Texture is key – aim for fluffy yet sturdy.

scones

Jam

On to the pressing question – jam or cream first? In Devon, jam goes on the scone before cream, while in Cornwall, it’s the other way around. But what jam works best? Locally made strawberry or raspberry jam are classic choices. Just avoid anything too sweet or syrupy.

jam

Clotted Cream

No cream tea is complete without real clotted cream, unique to the Southwest England. Made by heating cow’s milk and skimming off the top layer, it’s much thicker than regular cream. Spoon it on generously – the richness beautifully balances the sweet jam.

clotted cream

The Great Debate – Jam or Cream First?

Now we get to the heart of the matter – the eternal question of whether jam or cream goes first on the scone.

In Cornwall, jam is spread on the scone before adding a dollop of creamy richness. Locals will tell you the jam acts as a natural adhesive, preventing the cream from sliding off. .

Meanwhile, across the border in Devon, clotted cream is smoothed on first, followed by a spoonful of jam. Devon proponents argue this prevents the jam from soaking into the scone. They will also claim that the first-ever cream tea was served in Tavistock Abbey in the 11th century, and this gives them the authority to rule on the subject

Passions run high on both sides of the debate. But most importantly, this friendly rivalry is key to the charm of cream tea traditions. You should sample a cream tea in both regions and decide their preference!

The debate has even reached the royal family, with Queen Elizabeth II revealing that she ate her cream tea the Devon way, with cream first. This revelation has added further weight to the ongoing discussion.

Notable figures in the culinary world have also weighed in on the debate. Celebrity chef James Strawbridge, a Cornish native, firmly supports the Cornish way of serving cream tea, emphasizing the importance of putting jam first. Similarly, renowned cook Nigella Lawson, although more Cornish than Devonian, also favours the cream tea with jam first, citing the ease of spreading cream on top of the jam.

The debate has extended beyond the counties, with people from various regions and even internationally expressing their opinions. A poll conducted on social media showed a strong preference for jam first, with over 17,000 out of 18,000 votes in favor of this method.

The debate has become a cultural phenomenon, with strong regional loyalties and traditions influencing the way cream tea is enjoyed. The ongoing dispute has added an element of fun and intrigue to the enjoyment of this beloved British tradition, making it a topic of interest for locals and visitors alike

jam first

What do you find in a good cream tea menu?

We have already looked at the main sweet treats to go in a cream tea above; namely scones, jam and clotted cream.

In addition to these staples, you would expect to find some savoury treats too.

  • Sandwiches: Finger sandwiches are a light and elegant option for cream tea. They are typically made with white bread and filled with a variety of savory ingredients, such as cucumber, ham, and cheese.
  • Quiches: Quiches are a savory tart that is perfect for cream tea. They are typically made with eggs, milk,cheese, and a variety of fillings, such as bacon, vegetables, and herbs.
  • Savory scones: Savory scones are a delicious alternative to sweet scones. They are typically made with cheese, herbs, and spices.
quiche

The other essential element to a cream tea is evident from the name – it is tea of course. There are many different teas to think about.

  • Black Tea: Black tea is known for its bold, robust flavor and dark color, achieved through full oxidation of the tea leaves. It is often enjoyed with milk and sugar and serves as the base for classic blends like English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Varieties include Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Pu-Erh
  • Green Tea: Green tea is minimally oxidized, preserving its natural green color and delicate flavor. It is popular for its fresh, grassy aroma and is known for its health benefits. Varieties include Japanese matcha, Chinese Dragonwell, Jasmine, and Hojicha
  • White Tea: White tea is the least processed of all teas, with leaves simply withering and drying on their own. It offers a delicate, naturally sweet flavor and has very little caffeine. It is known for its floral and fruity notes
  • Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is partially oxidized, falling between green and black tea in terms of oxidation. It offers a wide range of flavors and aromas, often described as floral, fruity, and toasty. Varieties include Tie Guan Yin, Da Hong Pao, and Dong Ding.
  • Herbal Tea: Unlike true teas, herbal tea is not made from the Camellia sinensis plant but rather from various herbs, spices, flowers, and fruits. Herbal teas offer diverse flavors, aromas, and health benefits, such as Chamomile, Peppermint, Hibiscus, and Rooibos

Each type of tea offers a unique sensory experience and potential health benefits, making them popular choices for tea enthusiasts and those seeking a soothing and flavorful beverage to go perfectly with their sweet and savoury afternoon snacks.

tea

The Best Cream Tea Spots

From quaint seaside towns to cozy countryside tea rooms, Devon and Cornwall offer endless choices for excellent cream teas. Here are some top cream tea destinations in each region:

Devon

  • Agatha’s Café, Tiverton – Charming tearoom in a restored antiques shop, with homemade scones.
  • Teign House Inn, Teignmouth – Relax on the terrace of this inn with lovely coastal views.
  • Pumpkin Café, Kingsbridge – Vegetarian cafe with rave reviews for their fresh baked scones.
  • Bumble and Bee, Exmouth – Organic tea rooms with fantastic selection of cakes, coffee and cream teas
  • Copper Kettle, Bovey Tracey – Warm and cosy cafe on the edge of Dartmoor. Perfect for after a walk on the moor
  • Home Farm Cafe, Parke Estate – great cafe on the grounds of the National Trust Parke Estate near Bovey Tracey
  • The Sloop Inn, Bantham – Idle away an afternoon in this 16th century pub by the beach.
  • Valley View Cafe, Loddiswell near Kingsbridge – a fantastic cafe with great quality farm and local produce including very tasty afternoon teas
  • Castle Drogo – the tea rooms in the newest castle in England have a wonderful selection of food and teas
  • Tearoom at Powderham Castle (Powderham): Indulge in a regal experience at Powderham Castle’s tearoom, offering cream teas amid the historic elegance of the castle grounds.
  • The Guardhouse Café (Berry Head): Enjoy cream teas with a view at The Guardhouse Café on Berry Head , overlooking Torbay and the South Devon coastline.
  • Tea by the Taw (Barnstaple): Step back in time at The Vintage Tea Room in Barnstaple, where you can relish scrumptious cream teas in a nostalgic setting.
  • The Old Forge Caffè (Chagford): A charming café in Chagford, The Old Forge offers a cozy atmosphere and delicious scones made with local ingredients.
  • The Dartmouth Castle Tearooms (Dartmouth): Set in the beautiful grounds of Dartmouth Castle, The Orangery Tearooms provide a serene environment to enjoy cream teas.
  • Eat on the Green (Exeter): Located in the heart of Exeter, Eat on the Green offers a delightful spot to relax and enjoy cakes in a charming tearoom.
  • The Coffee Cabin (Bideford): In Appledore, the Coffee Cabin is a popular spot for taking a break, offering a laid-back atmosphere and a variety of coffee and tea options.
  • The Bearslake Inn (Okehampton): Set in Okehampton, The Bearslake Inn provides a cozy inn atmosphere where you can indulge in cream teas and traditional Devonshire hospitality.
  • The Corn Dolly Tea Shop (South Molton): South Molton’s Corn Dolly Tea Shop offers a warm and inviting ambiance to enjoy cream teas, homemade cakes, and a selection of teas.
  • The Blue Ball Inn (Sidford): The Blue Ball Inn in Sidford is a traditional pub where you can relish cream teas alongside a selection of beverages, creating a perfect blend of comfort and indulgence.
  • The Copper Kettle (Dulverton): Dulverton’s Copper Kettle is a cozy tearoom where you can unwind and enjoy cream teas, surrounded by the historic beauty of the town.

Cornwall

  • Yallah Coffee Shop, St Ives – Cream teas with a view at in this beautiful Cornish harbour
  • The Cornish Bakery, Truro – Split a gigantic “huffler” scone – designed for two!
  • Daisy’s Tea Room, Tintagel – The spot for cream teas near the ruins of King Arthur’s castle.
  • Wild Bake, Boscastle – Housed in a converted barn, their scones are simply heavenly.
  • Eden Project – The cafe at this modern Cornish icon know how to serve their scones the Cornish way!
  • Jamaica Inn (Bolventor): Historic and atmospheric, Jamaica Inn offers cream teas in a setting that echoes Cornwall’s smuggling past.
  • The Cornish Pantry (Looe): Located in the charming fishing town of Looe, The Cornish Pantry is known for its scrumptious food.
  • The Hidden Hut (Porthcurnick Beach): A beachside gem, The Hidden Hut is renowned for its outdoor feasts, including delightful cream teas.
  • The Headland Hotel (Newquay): Indulge in cream teas with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean at The Headland Hotel.
  • The Polurrian on the Lizard (Mullion): Enjoy cream teas in a luxurious setting with stunning views of the Lizard Peninsula.
  • Trevaskis Farm (Hayle): Combine a visit to the farm with a cream tea at the on-site restaurant, using fresh local produce.
  • The Fernpit Café (Newquay): Located on the Pentire Headland, The Fernpit Café offers cream teas with breathtaking views of the coast.
  • Tintagel Castle Beach Café (Tintagel): After exploring Tintagel Castle, relax with a cream tea at the beach café.
  • The Tudor Chippy & Tea Room (Penzance): A unique spot in Penzance, offering cream teas along with traditional Cornish pasties.
  • The Terrace Tea Rooms (St. Ives): Overlooking the beautiful Porthminster Beach, The Terrace Tea Rooms is a lovely place for cream teas.
  • Callestick Farm (Truro): A family-run farm offering cream teas featuring their own clotted cream and locally sourced ingredients.
  • The Gurnard’s Head (Zennor): This pub in Zennor is known for its cozy ambiance and delicious food.
  • The Rock Pool Café (Mousehole): Overlooking the harbor in Mousehole, The Rock Pool Café is a delightful spot for cream teas.
  • The Godolphin (Marazion): Situated near St. Michael’s Mount, The Godolphin Arms offers cream teas with stunning views.
  • The Falmouth Hotel (Falmouth): Indulge in cream teas at The Falmouth Hotel, a historic hotel with a touch of elegance.

Some Further Reading

afternoon tea book

The National Trust Book of Afternoon Tea is a delightful guide, seamlessly blending history with indulgence. Rich narratives accompany a tempting array of recipes, showcasing the quintessential British tradition. From scones to sandwiches, it’s a journey through time and taste, capturing the essence of a cherished ritual in a beautifully curated collection. In case you wondered, they dont specify if the Devon or Cornish way is best!

Buy Now

Afternoon Tea: A Brief History

Originating in the early 19th century, afternoon tea is a beloved English tradition that has evolved over time. Introduced by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, to combat the “sinking feeling” she experienced in the hours between lunch and dinner, afternoon tea quickly became a fashionable social ritual among the upper classes. As word of this delightful pastime spread, it gained popularity across various social strata and remains a cherished custom to this day.

Initially a private affair held in the duchess’s drawing room, afternoon tea soon found its way into tearooms and hotels, where it became more accessible to the public. The ritual of enjoying a pot of tea accompanied by dainty sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a selection of indulgent pastries became synonymous with sophistication and elegance. Over time, afternoon tea has transcended its English origins and is now enjoyed in various forms and settings around the world, each offering its own unique twist on this classic experience.

duchess of bedford cream tea

The Perfect Tea Selection

For a truly perfect afternoon tea experience, the selection of tea is paramount. Offering a variety of teas to cater to different preferences can elevate the overall enjoyment of the occasion. Some popular choices include traditional English Breakfast tea, aromatic Earl Grey, refreshing green tea, and fragrant chamomile. To please all guests, a well-rounded selection of black, green, herbal, and floral teas should be provided. For those looking to add a touch of luxury, exotic blends like Darjeeling, Oolong, and Jasmine tea could be included.

Moreover, incorporating specialty teas such as fruity blends, spiced chai, and rooibos could bring a modern twist to the traditional afternoon tea setting. These unique flavors can complement the array of sweet and savory treats typically served during this elegant affair. By curating a diverse and enticing tea selection, hosts can ensure that guests have a delightful and memorable experience.

Scones: A Devonshire Delight

Devonshire scones are a quintessential part of the traditional English afternoon tea experience. These light and fluffy baked treats are best enjoyed when freshly baked and still warm from the oven. Served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, the combination of flavors and textures creates a truly indulgent treat for your taste buds.

The key to perfecting Devonshire scones lies in the balance of ingredients and the technique used to mix the dough. A delicate touch is needed to ensure the scones are soft and tender, while still maintaining a slight crumble. Whether you prefer your scones plain or studded with raisins, the essence of a true Devonshire delight is captured in each bite.

Devonshire Clotted Cream vs Cornish Clotted Cream

Devonshire Clotted Cream, hailing from the county of Devon in southwest England, is renowned for its thick and velvety texture. Made by gently heating rich cream until a golden crust forms on the surface, this indulgent delicacy is a staple at traditional Devonshire cream teas. Its counterpart, Cornish Clotted Cream, originates from Cornwall and boasts a similarly luxurious consistency. However, Cornish Clotted Cream is known for its slightly firmer texture and a more pronounced crust on top, adding a delightful contrast to the creamy interior.

The distinction between Devonshire and Cornish Clotted Cream lies in the source of the cream used and the method of production. While both varieties are made by heating cream to form a thick layer, some argue that Devonshire Clotted Cream has a higher fat content, making it even richer and more indulgent. On the other hand, Cornish Clotted Cream is praised for its balanced flavor profile and slightly firmer texture, which some believe complements scones and jam exceptionally well. Ultimately, the choice between Devonshire and Cornish Clotted Cream comes down to personal preference, with both varieties capturing the essence of a quintessential Devon and Cornwall cream tea experience.

clotted cream

Exquisite Finger Sandwiches

When it comes to hosting a refined afternoon tea, the selection of exquisite finger sandwiches plays a crucial role in elevating the experience. Delicate and beautifully crafted, these delightful treats are often the highlight of any tea service. From classic cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches to savory smoked salmon and dill creations, the options are endless. Pair them with traditional egg salad sandwiches or indulge in the richness of thinly sliced roast beef with horseradish. The balance of flavors and textures in these sandwiches is key to creating a memorable tea spread.

In addition to the classic options, modern twists on finger sandwiches have also become popular among tea enthusiasts. Think of inventive combinations like brie and pear, chicken and watercress, or even a refreshing caprese sandwich with fresh basil and ripe tomatoes. The artful presentation of these sandwiches adds a touch of elegance to the tea table, making them not only a treat for the palate but also a feast for the eyes. When served alongside a variety of teas and other tea time delights, exquisite finger sandwiches contribute to a well-rounded and satisfying afternoon tea experience.

cucumber finger sandwich

Traditional Devonshire Pastries

When it comes to Traditional Devonshire Pastries, one cannot help but be transported to a world of delectable treats that are both rich in history and flavor. These pastries, often characterized by their flaky crusts and sweet fillings, are a staple in Devonshire tea culture. From the iconic Devonshire split, a baked delight filled with jam and clotted cream, to the mouthwatering apple turnovers and custard tarts, every bite is a testament to the region’s culinary expertise.

Moreover, the art of crafting Traditional Devonshire Pastries is a time-honored tradition that has been passed down through generations. Bakers in Devonshire take pride in using locally sourced ingredients to create these scrumptious treats, ensuring that each pastry is made with the utmost care and attention to detail. Whether enjoyed alongside a steaming pot of freshly brewed tea or as a standalone indulgence, Traditional Devonshire Pastries are sure to delight even the most discerning of palates.

The Importance of Presentation

When it comes to the delightful tradition of afternoon tea, presentation plays a crucial role in elevating the entire experience. The way in which the tea, sandwiches, scones, and pastries are displayed can truly set the tone for the gathering. A beautifully set table with elegant tableware, fresh flowers, and delicate linen can enhance the overall ambiance and make guests feel welcomed and special.

The presentation of the food itself is equally important. Finger sandwiches arranged neatly on tiered trays, scones served with a dollop of clotted cream and jam in decorative dishes, and pastries displayed artistically on cake stands all contribute to a visual feast that complements the culinary delights of the tea service. Attention to detail in the presentation not only delights the eyes but also enhances the overall enjoyment of the flavours and textures awaiting guests at the table.

afternoon tea presentation

The Art of Brewing the Perfect Pot of Tea

To brew the perfect pot of tea, start by selecting high-quality loose leaf tea leaves. The type of tea you choose, whether it’s black, green, oolong, or herbal, will greatly influence the flavor profile of your brew. For example, Darjeeling tea offers a delicate and floral taste, while Assam tea is robust and malty. Ensuring that your water is heated to the appropriate temperature is crucial; too hot and the tea can become bitter, too cool and the flavors won’t fully develop. Use a thermometer or an electric kettle with temperature control to achieve the ideal brewing conditions.

Next, steep the tea leaves for the correct amount of time. Oversteeping can result in a bitter and astringent brew, while understeeping might leave the tea weak and lacking in flavor. Follow the recommended steeping times for different types of tea to attain the perfect balance of taste and strength. Finally, pour the brewed tea into pre-warmed teacups to maintain its temperature and aroma. Serving your tea in delicate, porcelain teacups can enhance the overall tea-drinking experience, adding a touch of elegance to your afternoon ritual.

Enjoy the Views and Hospitality

A cream tea is so much more than just scones and spreads. It’s about the whole experience – relaxing amidst stunning scenery, chatting with the locals, and soaking up the regional hospitality.

Don’t rush your cream tea – take time to let the tastes and memories linger. And be sure to continue the debate about jam vs. cream etiquette wherever your travels take you! The friendly rivalry is all part of the fun.

So come visit Devon and Cornwall to enjoy England’s best cream teas. From quaint seaside towns, to cozy village tea rooms, to windswept coastal views, you can’t beat this classic tradition. Just be ready to pick a side in the jam or cream debate!

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