The Confusing Cream Tea

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Here’s my scone recipe again.


1 tblsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2-1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

5 tblsps sweet salted butter

1/2 cup raisins or preferably currants

Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 450F. Sift flour twice with baking powder and salt. Dice the fats into the dry ingredients and lightly rub in with cool fingertips or a pastry blender. Stir in raisins. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Lightly mix with a fork until ingredients form a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead very lightly for only about 30 seconds into a loose, smooth dough. Pat with hand to about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut out circles with a 2 inch cutter (I used a small glass for years). Lightly knead together any leftover dough and cut circles again. Place onto the hot baking sheet – you should hear them sizzling. Bake near the top of the oven for 10-12 mins or until golden brown and well risen. Lift onto wire rack to cool.

Slice into two halves, and while warm, spread jam on each half, followed by a spread dollop of whipped cream!

The trick is to handle the dough as little as possible, while still getting it to become doughy enough to cut circles. It does take some practice to get them to rise well. Freeze very well. The above recipe makes 6 scones.

And where I’m from we say “Sconn” not “Scoan”. We can’t be responsible for the people from the North Country. 😆

I’m sure at this point, my English family are wondering what the problem is. They all know what a cream tea is.

However, for 26 years I’ve been arguing with Americans who seem convinced that the cream part of “cream tea” refers to what we delightfully lighten and mellow our black tea with.


It took me forever to figure this out. When I first came to America I apparently struck people as a true imperialist, who certainly would be looking to demand and confiscate hot tea. Which was very thoughtful of them, and also wise, since I was. They would drag out their Luzianne and Lipton bags (😩), let me insist on boiling some water in a pot on the stove instead of using a coffee maker (😳) and even find a teapot to put the bags in.

And then they would always say, so sheepishly:

“I’m afraid I don’t have any cream…”

I wasn’t really sure how to respond.

Were they concerned about their dairy cow’s health?

Were they planning to whip up some butter to make sandwiches? Nope, couldn’t be that, Americans only use mayonnaise in sandwiches.

So I’d say, confused. “It’s ok…”

Because I didn’t know what else to say.

And then they’d again nod sheepishly and hand me the freshly made cup of black tea. To which I’d then say, “can I have a spot of milk, please?”

And then they’d look confused, but fetch a big gallon from the fridge and we’d both sit awkwardly while I tried to navigate the giant milk vessel carefully around Great Aunty Anne’s antique tea cup that they’d especially pulled out for the occasion.

I’m English, and so I never think to try to clear things up because that might be confrontational and impolite, even if we did barge into the Americas wielding large weapons. We’re still a bit embarrassed that Americans resorted to throwing tea in a harbor. It was a touch demonstrative for our stiff upper lips.

Several years after moving to the US, I was asked to do a couple of programs on the History of British Tea Drinking. It was great fun, and I took all my teacups and pots and made scones, and everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely.

At one of these events a few ladies called me over and asked what the little jug of milk was for on the table.

“It’s to put in your tea..”

“What’s this for then?” She pointed at a little dish of whipped cream.

“Oh, that goes on top of your scone, after you’ve spread a nice layer of jam around…”

Lightbulbs went on in everyone’s head, including my own. There were giggles.

“We always thought cream tea meant you put that whipped cream in the tea! We always thought that was a bit strange…”

Well, in this day and age of Frappuccinos and Cappuccinos perhaps not so odd, but back then maybe.

It did occur to me that when I was living in Australia, my best friend Lisa and I would always read Trixie Belden Mysteries, set in the Catskills. Trixie would always eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Well, in England and Australia, jelly is not jam, but rather, jello. And so Lisa and I made endless sandwiches with peanut butter and jello, trying to figure out why on earth the Americans thought this sandwich so great. The jello just slides right out between the slices of bread so exactly how did a child carry one to school?

Anyway. The cream confusion all made sense. Some things just need explanation. Or experimentation, perhaps.

This was my favorite because Jim gave Trixie a bracelet which was very romantic to my 13 year old mind.

So, then, a cream tea is a hot tea (with milk and sweetener) served with scones which you slather with jam and cream, and usually presented mid to late afternoon. If there’s no scones, it’s just an afternoon tea.

If you’re ever in England wondering about this confusion, look on the tea table for a wee milk jug, like these.

Let’s call it a milk pitcher. You Americans are weird about the word Jug. But these little things are much easier to handle than a gallon of milk.

Anyway, it will always be on the tea table because you’re supposed to put milk in your tea. If you ask the English waitress for cream, she will bring you coffee, and then the World will just Turn Upside Down and you already did that with ditching the tea in the Harbor so just behave yourselves, for goodness sake.

Ooh, one more interesting ramble while I think of it. The Americans didn’t throw loose tea in the Harbor, but Tea Bricks, like this:

Bit of a challenge to use in our modern world. Requires a grater.

Just to make things more confusing, the cream in question is often clotted cream, which hails from the West Country (think Poldark) where Cornwall and Devon are.

It’s the preparation of the cream that creates the difference. Whipping cream is simply whisked until thickened. Clotted cream is cooked at a low temperature for hours until the cream clots and thickens on the top and it is these delicious, yellowy clots that are used. It almost looks like butter.

Cream teas, whether clotted or unclotted, are available everywhere in England. They tend to spring up in many touristy locations, a bit like our “World-Famous Fudge” shops, but your local cafe will often serve them as well, along with everyone’s mum, grandma, Aunty and sister. It isn’t a light snack, by any means. A couple of scones with the condiments will likely run you a good days worth of calories, but heck, it’s Christmas, or a rainy day, or Tuesday, or something.

In London they now have a “Tea Bus” you can ride around and sightsee London on, along with cute sandwiches, cakes and scones. Here’s one we went on this summer:

My mummy and I having cakes. The tea had to be in travel mugs, since everyone’s starting to sue everyone else, even in England. 🙄
Unfortunately they forgot to serve the scones, so I can’t really brag on this particular tour. I’d highly recommend the Ritz Hotel. Can’t go wrong there.

I’m already hearing the next question.

“Isn’t that Scone just a biscuit?”

No, a biscuit is a cookie, and nobody serves gravy on their cookies. We talked about this last week….

It took me a while to figure that one out, too.

3 thoughts on “The Confusing Cream Tea

    1. I can imagine! Several years ago, our family had the privilege of visiting India and we so enjoyed being served tea! My husband and daughter developed a great love of Masala Chai following that trip! They are often boiling up spices in the kitchen to make a cup!

      Liked by 1 person

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