Afternoon tea has long been a royal tradition, and it’s become as quintessentially English as the Queen herself. Former royal chef Darren McGrady opened up to UK-based coffee retailer Coffee Friend about how the monarch never misses it – and how exactly the Queen’s afternoon tea is served.
‘The Queen had afternoon tea every day, wherever she was in the world,’ he says. ‘If we were at Buckingham Palace and she was on her own for tea, or whether she had Prince William come and join her, or whether she had a garden party for 6000 people or even if she was on the Royal Britannia in Australia.’
When she travelled, her personal chefs would communicate to ensure she was never served the same types of sandwiches and scones on consecutive days. Sandwich fillings would vary and depend on where the Queen was located. ‘Take Balmoral for instance; we’d have so much salmon coming in, we’d have that fresh salmon and make a beautiful salmon salad or put that into the sandwiches.’ As for the scones? ‘One day they would be plain scones, the next day they would be fruit scones with raisins. It was really important the way they alternated.’
As well as sandwiches and scones (pronounced like cones, of course), the Queen’s afternoon tea would also include petit fours: ‘Anything from a mini chocolate eclair to a Queen’s cake, and large cakes too which we would call a cut of cake,’ says McGrady. ‘This could be honey and cream sponge, a fruit cake, gingerbread. Banana bread, chocolate biscuit cake – one of her favourites – or a chocolate ganache cake.’
Sounds indulgent, right? Wrong: according to McGrady, the Queen’s tastes were surprisingly frugal. ‘It was one of the things that really surprised me, when I moved from The Savoy to Buckingham Palace. I thought every day would be smoked salmon, foie gras, caviar, but no. The Queen is very, very frugal and it’s simple and plain foods. That comes from her early years of growing up during the war.’
Using a red leather bound book which she would look at each day, the Queen would cross out options on the menu or write the number two if someone was joining her for tea. ‘When you opened it up, the top left corner would be lunch, the bottom left corner would be afternoon tea and the whole page on the right was dinner.’
As for the tea itself, the Queen drinks extra hot Earl Grey her way. ‘Tea has to have absolutely boiling water poured over the top of it, and it has to steep for five minutes – that is the most important part,’ says McGrady. ‘It’s really, really important when making tea is that it’s made in a teapot – that is a real cup of tea.’