Although Jane Austen hints of afternoon tea as early as 1804 in an unfinished novel, credit is given to Anna Russell, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, for developing the tradition of afternoon tea. The usual habit of serving dinner as late as 9 p.m. seemingly left the duchess hungry in late afternoon. To stave off the hunger she would order tea, bread and butter and cakes to be served in her rooms.
Later, friends were invited to join her at Woburn Abbey, and what began as a summer practice proved so popular that the duchess continued it when she returned to London. She began sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walk in the fields." Other hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and it wasn’t long before all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
Afternoon Tea, initially developed as a private social event, became a formal occasion on a larger scale, known as a "tea reception," when Queen Victoria engaged in the Afternoon Tea ritual.
Afternoon Tea, typically served between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., is a meal comprised of sandwiches, cut delicately into "fingers," scones (which were not featured in teas until the 20th century) with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes, usually served on tiered cake stands, and piping hot tea, of course.