A message for our customers regarding COVID-19 click here. Please note this supersedes all other website information.

Select your hotel

North Devon
South Devon

A message for our customers regarding COVID-19 click here. Please note this supersedes all other website information.

Brend Hotels

Devon or Cornwall? Who can claim the origin of the cream tea?

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." - Henry James

Warm scones, sweet fruity jam and heavenly clotted cream with a finely brewed cup of tea is perhaps the most quintessentially English tradition that has swept the globe, but arguably Devon and Cornwall are the masters of this devilishly tasty delight.

With the fires of cream tea passion still burning brightly either side of The Tamar today and Twitter ablaze with #JamFirst #CreamFirst we have a look back at where it all began and figured that with loyalties spanning the borders, we were the right body to bring you the facts on The Cream Tea Society's National Cream Tea Day - 30th June 2017.

So where did it begin?

Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife, it wasn’t until the mid 17th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.

The story goes that in around 1840, the seventh Duchess of Bedford became peckish around four o'clock in the afternoon waiting for dinner time. At the time people only usually took two main meals per day; breakfast and dinner at around eight o’clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot of tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon and eventually inviting friends to join. Her habit became a fashionable social event; upper class and society women donned their long gowns, gloves and hats for afternoon tea in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.

The idea didn’t go unnoticed by other social hostesses and before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

Traditional afternoon tea consists of a spread of dainty sandwiches (of course including thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches) cakes, scones, cream and preserves with tea grown in India or Ceylon poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups; the first hint of cream teas as we know them today.

The Cream Tea

So onto the cream tea itself and the centuries old Devonshire vs Cornish debate over the origin of this finest of English dining traditions.

Local historians in Tavistock, West Devon, claim that ancient 11 Century manuscripts depict that the monks of the local Benedictine Abbey fed local workers with bread, clotted cream and preserves who were restoring the Abbey after it was plundered by Vikings in 997AD. However take a step over the border and the Cornish make a mighty claim for originating clotted cream in 500BC. Food historian, Alan Davidson, theorised that Phoenicians (from what is now modern day Lebanon and Syria) sailed to the Cornish shores and traded their art of cream making called ‘Kaymak’ (a recipe similar to clotted cream that is still produced in Lebanon and Afghanistan today) for Cornish tin. No matter its heritage, the Cornish have undeniably made it their own.

'The proper way'

Cream first or jam first? It is a debate that has been rumbling on for years between the Devonians and the Cornish.

The Cornish way is jam first and cream on top, one reason being that with a warm scone, the cream melts thus limiting the amount of cream. In a BBC Cornwall report Nick Rodda of Rodda’s Clotted Cream says..."I would say that the Cornish make their cream better, and as my grandfather always jokingly said, 'we always put our cream on the top because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with their jam', but that's a little bit of tongue in cheek rivalry."

The Devonian way is to lavish the warm scone with cream first and then a dollop of jam on top, one common way of thinking is ‘would you put butter on top of jam?’ In the same BBC Cornwall report, Paul Winterton from Langage Farm in Devon suggests that if you look at the theory of where the cream tea originated, it was always the jam component that was the most expensive of which Devon and Cornwall people couldn't afford so the cream would supposedly go on first with a small portion of jam on the top of that cream, so the history, the provenance, comes from Devon and not Cornwall.

We like to think of it as a unity of two of England’s finest counties and however you enjoy this most patriotic of pleasures, we shan’t judge you (as long as the cream is clotted!)

Enjoy an afternoon or cream tea at anyone of our hotels! Here's just a few to get you started... 🍰