No traveller to Devon can escape the omnipresent Devonshire Cream Tea. It is something the locals take extraordinarily seriously, with good reason. But what is it? And why is it possible to offend a Devonian by doing it the “wrong way round”?
What is a Cream Tea?
Cream tea can be found everywhere in the British Isles and is a simple fare: a fresh pot of tea, freshly baked scones, clotted cream, and jam.
Clotted cream is a cream with a minimum of 55 per cent butterfat. It comes from slowly heating milk and letting the cream to coagulate at the top of the mix as it cools. Clotted cream is not whipped cream.
So, Not Afternoon Tea then?
Certainly not! Afternoon tea is a light meal taken in the mid afternoon to stave off hunger for tea (dinner) later. It usually starts with cucumber sandwiches, then scones with cream and jam, then a few cakes, and all with fresh pots of tea. It is quite similar but a cream tea has no sandwiches and can be enjoyed any time.
Devonshire Cream Tea
A Devonshire cream tea is one made with Devonshire clotted cream. The cows in Devon are particularly lucky, the grass in Devon has less carotene in it so the cream comes out particularly white. Clotted cream from Ireland would be more yellowy because of the buttercups in their grass.
Devonshire cream is renowned for its flavour and texture, and once you have tried it, nothing compares. The Cornish (from the next county Westwards) would disagree. From an outsider’s point of view, it is hard to tell the difference between a Cornish and Devonshire cream tea. However, there are significant and important differences that it is essential to know if you are to avoid insulting your hosts.
The Difference between Cornish and Devonshire Cream Tea
As we have already established, a cream tea needs four ingredients: tea, scones, clotted cream and jam. In Cornwall and Devon, the ingredients are exactly the same (apart from the origin of the clotted cream).
The difference, dear readers, lies in the method of construction. In Devon, they put the cream on first, then the jam.
The Cornish consider this heresy: the jam goes on first, then the cream!
Seriously, arguments have raged over this difference.
Does it Make a Difference?
No. The result is still completely, fabulously delicious, but it is basically impossible to tell the difference. You are putting it in your mouth and chewing it, so any difference is soon mushed anyway.
Potentially, it is easier to spread jam on the scone than on top of the cream, but it is hardly taxing either way.
Pronouncing “Scone” in Devonshire
In England, the word scone is said in two ways: “scOwn” so it sounds like own with the sc in front and “scon”. North of the Midlands, it is almost always “scon”, in the South it is usually “scOwn”. In Devon, ask for a “scOne”, they will understand you perfectly and possibly even like you more because you made the effort to get it right.
Devonshire Cream Tea Etiquette
The only thing to remember about having cream tea in Devon is to put the clotted cream on first, then the jam. If you don’t like jam, you might get a strange look or two (“cream tea without jam!?!”) but at least you will not get a disapproving look from the old dear who runs the only teashop in town. Another pointer: do not slurp your tea, anywhere in England. It is a sign that you are “uncouth” and “uncivilised”.
Asking for decaffeinated tea is much more acceptable, and if you are lucky you might get some. The English, as you probably already know, are incredibly proud and protective of their tea traditions, and it has taken some time for decaf to become accepted.
When to have a Devonshire Cream Tea?
Any time you fancy one, go get one. They are quite filling, so be careful if you are coming up to lunch. As a treat for the kids who need a bit of a pick-me-up, a cream tea is perfect. After a morning on the beach, they’ll be clamouring for something to keep them going until dinner. They’re sure to love the gloriously messy process of eating cream tea.
It is not that Serious, Don’t Worry
The locals will not run you out of town if you get it wrong, they do not take themselves seriously. It is more a joke that the order is different in Cornwall and Devon. The ties between the two counties are very strong and the tradition emerged from the whole area, although historians from the respective counties will have long and enjoyable arguments trying to persuade you or anyone else that it came from their part of the peninsula, not the other one!