Although tea was discovered in China around 2700 BC , afternoon tea is an English institution, accompanied by sandwiches, scones or cake.
By the 17th century, Dutch traders brought tea from Asia to Europe, where it rapidly gained popularity. When the Dutch Infanta Catherine Braganza married King Charles II in 1662, she brought with her to England a chest of tea. It immediately became the beverage of choice in English high society, replacing ale as the national drink.
How Afternoon Tea Began
Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.