Dainty sandwiches, freshly-baked scones with jam and cream and delicious cakes served on pretty china with a pot of refreshing tea - it's little wonder everything is stopping for afternoon tea in Derbyshire...
"THERE are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."
So said writer Henry James and with Mother's Day looming next week, many people could well be thinking of booking an afternoon tea for their mum or other family members.
But who needs Mother's Day as an excuse to indulge in what has become one of the biggest growth areas in eating out in recent years after decades when the practice of eating dainty sandwiches and petite cakes in the afternoon went through a lean time?
Afternoon tea, as might be expected, was originally always the prerogative of the middle and upper classes.
Strange as it might seem, it was actually "invented" by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, while living at Woburn Abbey, who became quite hungry around 4pm each day but with no prospect of the next meal until 7pm or 8pm.
In 1840, she plucked up the courage to ask for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her room. Once she started doing this, she could not stop and so began to encourage her friends to take it up as a practice.
As the century progressed, so did the practice of taking afternoon tea with ladies changing into tea gowns for the occasion – an outfit that always had a loose waist probably to make room for the indulgence.
Out of the desire to take afternoon tea, arose a need to have something to serve it in and on. So began the growth of evermore extravagant and interesting tea services comprising of side plates, tea plates, bread and butter plates, cake stands, cake slices and ornate teapots.
By 1900, the fashionable time for afternoon tea was 5pm and in middle and upper class circles had become a full-blown social occasion where people were waited on and even entertained by musicians. For the lower classes, the era saw the rise of the tea shop, which had started in 1864 with the creation of The Aerated Bread Company, known as ABC tea shops.
There followed tea shops set up by Express dairies and J Lyons, where the waitresses were known as 'nippies'.
Tea shops also sprang up in departments stores. Afternoon tea suffered an inevitable decline following both world wars and it became increasingly difficult to break off work at 4pm and 5pm for most people.
But tea has never lost its fascination for the British – think about those occasions when those immortal words "I'll just pop the kettle on" are uttered.
It doesn't matter if it's a joyous or sad occasion, tea seems to hit the spot better than any proffered cup of coffee does.
And with the current desire among many people, brought about by such things as TV drama Downton Abbey, vintage memorabilia revivals and a drive for antique collecting, it is no wonder that afternoon tea is enjoying a revival.
For most of us it may only be an occasional treat every now and again but the luxury of sitting down, albeit for an hour or so, and enjoying the food, drink and atmosphere, smacks of a bygone age that many people aspire to.
So what should an afternoon tea comprise of?
It must always start with sandwiches and never with cakes and scones.
A standard of the Edwardian era was the cucumber sandwich – probably today's sandwiches are a little more adventurous – but many places still serve them.
Traditionally, they also include: egg mayonnaise with cress; smoked salmon with cream cheese; Coronation chicken and ham and mustard.
There might be small cakes and scones with jam and cream and many restaurants are also offering a glass of champagne as an optional extra.
And then of course, there is the big decision over what type of tea to select.
Usual choices include: Assam, a strong full-bodied tea from India, which has a distinctive, 'malty' flavour; Darjeeling, an aromatic and astringent tea from India, with a hint of almonds and wildflowers; Earl Grey, a blend of black teas scented with oil of bergamot named after Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834; and Lapsang Souchong, a Chinese tea fired over smoking pine needles, which produces a striking smoky odour and flavour.
It's worth shopping around to see what afternoon teas are available.
Some establishments have offers for two people having a meal, not everywhere serves afternoon tea every day and most places want you to book in advance.
That is especially the case for Mother's Day.
Iain Hardman, deputy managing director of East Lodge, Rowsley, said: "We have seen exponential growth in this area over the last few years – afternoon tea really is 'en vogue'."
Sentiments echoed by a spokesman for Bennetts, in Iron Gate, who added:
"Afternoon tea is extremely popular and aside of people coming on special occasions, some people now make a regular habit of it and come in once a month."
"Afternoon tea is very popular among all types of people and all ages once again."
Is it 4pm yet? Who's hungry?!
Some of the content provided in this article has been sourced from http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/