Afternoon Tea Study Course

Still Life: Tea Set by Jean Etienne Liotard circa 1783 © J Paul Getty Museum

The Evolution of the English Afternoon Tea-Table 1660 - 2020

20.10.23 This class is not available at the present time. Full details for a new class schedule will be posted in Spring 2024. 

The English Tea Study Course explores the activity of the English afternoon tea table as a developing ritual through three and a half centuries.

English Afternoon Tea-Tables offer a way into the constructed assemblage of its material objects (the tea paraphernalia, food and drink) and social history of their times. Through this course we will look at a wide variety of English tea tables and their cargo, from the grand to the modest, from 1660-2021.

The contextual significance of the English Tea-Table varies hugely by date and region and whether located within the domestic or public sphere. The early 18th Century tea-table provided an opportunity to advertise the wealth and values of their owners, whilst its performative function directed the social engagement within, and between, the homes of the elite classes. It acted as a repository for collections of tea-related objects, food and drink, all of which exhibited fashion, taste and wealth. As society has changed, each successive generation has embraced and adapted the idea of the 18th Century afternoon tea-table and its customs.

We shall look at the people who have adopted the practice, the objects they use, and the food and drink they consume. Studying their surroundings, their lives and their aspirations, helps us gain a sense of how tea has played a role in the social life of numerous and various homes across the United Kingdom.

The contents of this study course will be spread across four modules. The focus of study will be of the material: paintings, contemporary essays, reports, household manuals, diaries, novels and objects.

Arrival of tea in Europe and the early tea-tables.

Components of the tea table: 1. The tea paraphernalia, vessels and tools

Components of the tea table: 2. The food and the drink

Proliferation: the numerous performative ‘teas’ today.

Course aims:

This course will enable participants to explore the multifaceted nature and development of the English tea table through its the constructed assemblage of its material objects (the tea paraphernalia, food and drink) as expressions of social relationships and values.

This course will enable students to:

Learning outcomes:

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

This course will be delivered online over Zoom. It will be made up of live presentations and tutorials plus small-group workshop sessions. A recommended reading list and relevant course notes will be available.

This class is not available for the next two months. Full details of availability for the summer months will be listed by 1st March 2024. If you have any questions please contact Caroline,