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How to Make Devonshire Tea Perfectly

Also known as a Cream tea, this English delight usually consists of scones topped with jam and clotted cream, along with a variety of loose leaf teas.

Not to be confused with afternoon or high teas, which can include savory items such as quiche and sandwiches, as well as pastries and cake, Devonshire Teas are specifically scones and tea.

The History of Devonshire Tea

Although the origin of cream or Devonshire tea is hotly debated, it was recently discovered that the first known mention of cream teas probably occurred in the 11th century, at the Tavistock Abbey in Devon, England.

Local historians studied ancient manuscripts related to the Abbey, which was established in the 10th century.

After being plundered and damaged by Vikings in 997 A.D., the Earl of Devon began the restorations, assisted by local workers, who were rewarded by the Benedictine Monks with a meal of bread served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

Over the years, the Monks continued to serve their Devon cream tea to travelers passing by.

More Historical Mentions

Also offered in Cornwall and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, including Australia, other mentions of cream teas in recent history include a newspaper entry called ‘The Cornishman’ in 1931, which references them and the 1964 novel ‘Picture of Millie’ by Philip Maitland Hubbard, notes – “We just bathe and moon about and eat cream teas.”

Cream Tea Variations

Even though it might sound a little trite, there are those who are adamant that there is only one way to properly eat a cream or Devonshire tea – particularly how the scone should be served.

(Note that the scone is the English version, unlike other versions which are harder and include dried fruits and other additions.)

The Devonshire (or Devonian) Method: The scone is split in two and then both halves are covered in clotted cream, with strawberry jam on top. This method is also used in neighboring counties and Australia.

The Cornish Method: After the scone is split in two, both halves are spread with strawberry jam and then topped with clotted cream. This technique is also observed in London and other regions.

Mind you, both methods can be found throughout the counties and the Commonwealth, but there are some “rules” that are generally adhered to anywhere a cream tea is served, such as:

  • The tea must be loose leaf served in a tea pot
  • The scones must be warm – preferably freshly baked on the premises
  • Butter is rarely if ever used
  • Clotted cream rather than whipped cream should be included
  • The jam should be strawberry, although other fruits of the season can be included

There’s a discrepancy as to whether milk should be added to the accompanying cup of tea and some suggest that the tea should be black or with lemon, to counteract the heaviness of the cream and the sugar in the jam.

This of course depends on the tea sipper, seeing as personal preferences should prevail if you want to enjoy the experience. A variation to the scone in a cream tea is a slice of bread topped with honey and clotted cream, called “Thunder and Lightning”.

Which Teas can be Served at a Devonshire Tea?

If you really want to drill it down, think about the flavor of jams you will have on offer. For example:

  • Lighter jams and spreads such as strawberry, lemon and apricot might pair well with lighter teas, like a delicate Darjeeling or an Earl Grey.
  • Heavier conserves and preserves such as plum, marmalade and blackberry could be paired with a smoky blend like Russian Caravan or Lapsang Souchong.

On the other hand, you might want to offset light or heavy flavors by providing teas that counterbalance the types of jams used in your Devonshire tea. These days, people usually like to have a selection so that all palates are taken into consideration.

This includes the jams as well as the teas and some prefer herbal tisanes or God Forbid – coffee!

Flavor Profiles to Consider

  • Assam teas are often included in breakfast blends and are more robust and malty
  • Ceylon varieties are usually lighter and can be paired with any sweet treats
  • Darjeeling ranges from floral and green to fruity, which compliments sweet or savory foods
  • Chamomile tea has an apple-like flavor that goes well with scones and fruity confections
  • Rose Congou is rose infused black tea which is perfect for creamy sweets and strawberry jam
  • Russian Caravan is bold and smoky, which pairs well with strong-tasting foods
  • Strong Green teas such as Gunpowder compliment savory pastries

Hopefully you get the idea and of course, once again, it all depends on what you’re serving and the palates of the guests you’ve invited. A good rule of thumb is to provide a variety of jams and teas, even if it does mean that you’re flying in the face of tradition.

If you want to mix it up a bit, you can include other herbal teas such as Peppermint or Lavender, which is an ideal infusion for those who like a more perfumed beverage to accompany their sweets. One thing is for sure – the scone must be the English variety if it’s a proper Devonshire Tea.

Whether you’re aiming for a traditional Devonshire tea or planning a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party or a breezy, summer-inspired afternoon tea complete with alcohol, the right tea and the right food makes all the difference – however – don’t forget the clotted cream.

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