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The Cream Tea Debate

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of British food? Fish and Chips? Roast Beef? Shepherd’s Pie? Chances are, you probably don’t think of one of Britain’s quaintest treats: The Cream Tea. It may well be unfamiliar to many people outside the UK, but to the British it is almost an institution. In this week’s post, my best friend at the school, Jen takes a knife to this most traditional of British treats, and the controversy that surrounds just how you are supposed to eat it!

Last week, we were lucky enough to enjoy a cream tea for dessert in our restaurant. Imagine our surprise when, upon spotting the words “cream tea” on the lunchtime desserts menu, our two German interns turned to us and asked “but what is a cream tea?”

In trying to explain this important custom to our interns, the English staff ended up in a lively debate about the details of the cream tea; should you pronounce it “scone” (rhyming with “gone”) or “scone” (rhyming with “cone”)? Should you start with a layer of butter or use a dry scone? Should you put the cream on first, or the jam?

We felt it was our responsibility to educate our interns on this very important British debate, so in today’s post, we’re going to look at the “cream tea”, what it consists of and most importantly, the common arguments that surround it!

A traditional English cream tea is made up of a pot of black tea with milk accompanied by scones, jam and clotted cream. The cream tea originates from the southern coast of England; both Devon and Cornwall lay claim to its invention and both have their own traditional way of eating it.

In essence, the two are very similar. It is only the construction of the cream tea that differs. In Devon, the scone is cut in two, spread with clotted cream and then covered with strawberry jam. In Cornwall, the scone is usually buttered first, before being spread with jam and finally topped with clotted cream. Of course, everyone has their own preferred method – I like a combination of the Devonshire and the Cornish method, using no butter, but spreading the jam before the cream!

The question of pronunciation is often another issue of contention. In the US, the word “scone” is commonly pronounced like “cone” rather than “gone”, but in the UK both pronunciations are common. Traditionally, the pronunciation rhyming with “gone” is associated with the north of England and is considered to be more working class, whilst the other pronunciation is associated with the southern middle class.

There are, of course, some things that everyone can agree on: coffee with a cream tea is definitely not acceptable, strawberry jam is key and cannot be replaced with another flavour, and aerosol cream is NEVER an acceptable alternative to clotted cream!

quaintest (adj) – attractively unusual or old-fashioned
institution (n) – a popular or familiar custom
spotting (v) – seeing or noticing something
intern (n) – a student or trainee who works in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification
clotted cream (adj+n) – a thick cream with a buttery consistency
lay claim to (fixed exp) – to say that you are the owner or inventor of something
in essence (adv phr) – basically; fundamentally
contention (n) – a heated disagreement
working class (adj+n) – the lower social class
middle class (adj+n) – the class between working class and upper class, including professionals and business people
aerosol cream (adj+n) – a sterilized cream packaged in an aerosol container 

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