A cream tea, alternatively known as Devon cream tea, Devonshire tea, or Cornish cream tea, is a delightful afternoon tea that typically includes tea, scones, clotted cream (although whipped cream may also be used), jam, and occasionally butter. These delectable treats can be found in tea rooms all over England, with a particular emphasis on Devon and Cornwall, as well as in some other parts of the Commonwealth.
The exact origin of the cream tea is not clear, but some evidence suggests that the tradition of consuming bread with cream and jam dates back to the 11th century at Tavistock Abbey in Devon. However, the term “cream tea” in the context of an afternoon tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam, rather than simply tea with cream, was first documented in the 1964 novel Picture of Millie by Philip Maitland Hubbard. Nonetheless, the “Foods of England” website has found an earlier reference in a 1931 newspaper article, The Cornishman, indicating that the phrase was already in use in its modern sense at that time.
Cream Tea Variations
Cream tea is a quintessential British tradition with regional variations in its preparation. In Devonshire, the scone is split in half and each half is topped with clotted cream, followed by a dollop of strawberry jam. The Cornish method involves spreading strawberry jam on a warm scone, and then placing a spoonful of clotted cream on top. While some people argue about the proper order of spreading the cream and jam, both variations are popular in both counties.
It is essential that the scones are warm and made freshly, and that clotted cream and strawberry jam are used, rather than whipped cream or other types of jam. Butter is generally not included, and milk is sometimes excluded from the tea service.
Occasionally, a “Devon split” or “Chudleigh” may replace the scone in Devon, while in Cornwall, a “Cornish split” is a traditional alternative to a scone. Thunder and Lightning is another variation of cream tea, which features bread or a Cornish split, topped with clotted cream and honey or golden syrup. A savory cream tea includes cheese scones, cream cheese instead of clotted cream, and chutney in place of jam.