Cream tea and tea drinking in Britain

What goes best with a cup of tea – biscuits? chocolate? pastries? cakes? How about scones, cream and jam? When you want some Cream Tea, it would have to be scones.


Although there have previously been articles about tea drinking culture and its heritage, the foods with which we accompany our tea-drinking have been written about less frequently. This article aims to explore one such custom as a part of the food heritage of England – the making and consumption of Cream Tea.

The Cream Tea is accompanied by indulgent scones, topped with jam and clotted cream.
Image Courtesy: Unique Devon Tours

Description – what Cream Tea consists of

Cream Tea has a number of minor regional variations depending in which county of the West Country of Southern England it is being served. It is also known as Devon Cream Tea, Devonshire Cream Tea or Cornish Cream Tea. In fact, the Devon Cream Tea has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under the European Union. The typical components of Cream Tea consist of scones, fruit (often strawberry) jam or conserve, and clotted cream. It is often served between lunch and dinner at tearooms, farmhouses, cafes and hotels. Afternoon Tea is also served at these spaces, and is more indulgent and filling. It consists of sandwiches and cakes along with scones, jam and clotted cream.

History – the origin of Cream Tea

The earliest reference to Cream Tea in archival records is in the historic town of Tavistock, West Devon, over 1,000 years ago. However, it is possible that the tradition dates back even longer.

Tavistock is where the Cream Tea finds its origin.
Image Courtesy: Tavistock Devon

Clotted cream, which is derived from the neighbouring county, Cornwall, has origins dating back to 500 BC, when the Phoenicians (from the area currently part of Lebanon and Syria) introduced cream making to the area. A similar cream called kaymak can still be found today in Lebanon and Afghanistan. The monks of Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey created the dish, a combination of bread, clotted cream and strawberry conserves. The abbey was established in the 10th century, but was badly damaged as a result of raids by marauding Vikings in 997 AD. During restoration of the Abbey, such Cream Teas were served to the local workers by monks. It became a way of thanking the workers for their efforts. Cream Teas became popular and continued to be served to visitors and travellers passing through the town ever since.

Some cream tea etiquette and useful tips (according to the Cream Tea Society)

– The perfect scone should break apart in the middle with a simple twist

– Clotted cream should never be substituted with other types, like whipped cream or cream cheese

– The tea should be brewed from loose-tea leaves (black tea, fermented and wilted tea leaves)

– Spread the jam on to the scone and add a drop of cream on top (the Devon way), or do the reverse and spread the cream followed by the jam on top (the Cornish way).

Where to find ‘The Best’ Cream Tea

The Primrose Cottage Tearoom, in the village of Lustleigh in Dartmoor, is one of my own favorite places in the county to enjoy a cream tea. This pretty and traditional cottage tearoom has a  thatched roof and picturesque garden. It is surrounded by beautiful moors and English rural country-side scenery. It may be a little remote, but it is worth the journey to appreciate the unique experience of Cream Tea that Primrose Cottage offers.

Lustleigh’s Primrose Tea Cottage is known to serve some of the best Cream Tea.
Image Courtesy: Geograph

An annual celebration of Cream Tea is held on June 30th. The popularity of this indulgent, sweet dish is definitely something that makes it a cultural marvel of the British people.


BBC (2004). Were cream teas “invented” in Tavistock?. Accessed 04/04/2017:[]

Cream Tea Cafe (2008). History of Cream teas. Accessed 04/04/2017: []

Cream tea society (n.d.). History of the cream Tea. Accessed 04/04/2017: []

Dartmoor Accommodation (2017). The Primrose Cafe – the pretty cottage tearoom in Lustleigh – primrose tearoom. Accessed 04/04/2017: []

intangible heritage asset




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