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June 14, 2024

Destination: Cotswolds

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Cream or Jam First? A Complete Guide to an English Cream Tea

In our book, visitors to England shouldn’t leave without sampling a traditional English Cream Tea.  

A freshly baked scone, some unctuous cream and some zingy, locally-made jam – all served with a steaming hot cup of tea – for many Brits, this is the perfect afternoon (or morning) treat. 

But what is this peculiar national speciality, how should it be eaten and what the heck is ‘clotted’ cream?! 

What is an English Cream Tea

An English cream tea traditionally consists of a scone with clotted cream and jam (traditionally Strawberry) and a pot of tea. It is different from an ‘afternoon tea’ which is usually accompanied by sandwiches and other cakes alongside the scones.  

Both tend to be enjoyed in the afternoon, but a cream tea makes for an equally indulgent mid-morning treat before lunch. Some Brits will refer to this as, ‘Elevenses’.  

Classic English Cream Tea with a scone, jam, clotted cream and a pot of tea

What is the difference between a cream tea and afternoon tea?

A cream tea is simply a pot of tea (usually English breakfast tea) and a scone served with cream and jam. An afternoon tea tends to be more of a meal in itself, with sandwiches, cakes and other drinks served alongside the scones and tea.  

Afternoon teas have become extremely popular across England as an indulgent experience often in the setting of a grand hotel or palace. The Fortnum and Mason hotel in London is famous for its afternoon tea packages whilst Blenheim Palace and Highgrove offer a regal setting for an afternoon tea, ideal for special occasions.  

As part of a cream tea, you can usually opt for a fruit scone which is a scone with raisins (or sultanas) baked inside or a plain scone which is traditionally sweet, soft and crumbly. In artisan delis across the country, you are likely to come across many other flavours with savoury scones rising in popularity.  

Savoury scones tend to be cheese and eaten with butter. You may also come across a combination of flavours such as cheese and courgette, cheese and chilli or cheese and onion. These usually form part of a picnic lunch, enjoyed with cold meats, chutneys and salads. We recommend stopping at the Broadway Deli in the Cotswolds who stock a wide range of freshly made scones. 

Afternoon Tea Lords of The Manor
Afternoon Tea The Manor House - Moreton in Marsh

What is a Cornish cream tea?

A Cornish cream tea is a cream tea from the region of Cornwall, England. It consists of the same ingredients as you might find anywhere else in the country, a pot of tea and a scone with jam and cream.  

The difference comes from how the scone is served and enjoyed. The Cornish tradition is to cut the scone in half, so you have two flat rounds. On each side, jam is spread first and then the cream on top. The jam being spread first is what makes it the ‘Cornish way’.  

Just across the border into the county of Devon you’ll find many tearooms offering a ‘Devonshire Cream Tea’. Whilst identical in what is served to you, the difference in this county is that they believe that spreading the cream first and then the jam on top of the cream is the correct way to enjoy a scone.  

Devon cream tea, scone and jam with clotted cream
Devon cream tea, cream first then jam: Image: Shutterstock, Asife

Should you put cream or jam first? 

How to enjoy a cream tea is truly a personal preference though different regions across the UK, particularly Devon and Cornwall, will fiercely argue their tradition is best.  

The Devonshire way follows the logic of the cream acting like butter. Therefore, you would spread butter on toast before jam and thus spreading cream on a scone first and then jam is the more logical order.  

The Cornish on the other hand say that spreading the jam first allows for a cleaner build of the scone. Spread the jam first and then dollop the cream on top. The cream and the jam then don’t mix and allows for the jam to be easily spread, with a thinner consistency first. 

In our opinion, once you’ve taken a bite, the final taste of the scone, cream and jam is almost identical. Whichever way you sample your scone make sure you enjoy it with a hot cup of tea – oh and if you’re feeling particularly lavish, spread some butter on your scones before adding the cream and jam! 

cornish-vs-devon-cream-tea
Jam or cream first? On the left is a Devonshire Cream Tea, on the right is a Cornish Cream Tea

What is a Scone? 

Today, scones are a staple in the classic, British ‘Cream Tea’ as well as the more traditional ‘British Afternoon Tea’.  

Scones are thought to have originated in Scotland in the 1500’s. Made from oats and shaped into a large round and scored into four or six wedges. No jam or cream in sight back then!  

In present day, a traditional scone recipe tends to be made up of flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and milk. Still shaped into rounds and the dough cut with a fluted cutter to give the crinkled edges often found on scones.  

Across the pond in America, ‘biscuits’ resemble a likeness to the British scone. Derived from similar ingredients and baking processes, the American biscuits tend to have flaky layers and are more buttery. We definitely don’t eat our scones with sausages or gravy!  

English cream tea with scones and jam and clotted cream
Scones with clotted cream and jam. Image: Shutterstock: Magdanatka

How to pronounce ‘Scone’? 

Is it ‘Scone that rhymes with Cone’ or ‘Scone that thymes with Gone’? The difference in pronunciation of the word Scone comes from the sound of the ‘o’ in the middle of the word.  

From various informal polls across the nation the most commonly heard pronunciation seems to be ‘Sc-on’ rhyming with ‘gone’. This is the preferred way that the folk of Devon and Cornwall and Northern England and Scotland tend to opt for. 

You are more likely to come across the other pronunciation ‘Sc-own’ rhyming with ’cone’ in the villages of the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to name a few.  

Ultimately there is no right or wrong way to say the word. Pronunciation is largely down to personal preference or how you have learnt to say the word. 

What is English Clotted Cream?

Clotted cream – sometimes referred to as Devonshire or Cornish cream if sourced from that area – is a thick cream used to spread on scones or other sweet deserts.  

It is traditionally made with full-fat unpasteurised cow’s milk that is heated in a shallow pan for many hours until the cream rises to the surface and then thickens or clots, hence the name.  

Clotted Cream is similar in consistency to softened cream cheese but tastes like creamy, unsalted butter, thus making it the ideal accompaniment to spread on a scone.  

For ease at home, you can purchase whipping cream or double cream that when whipped at a fast speed using a hand or electric whisk will also thicken turn into a spreadable consistency. Albeit still not as delicious as clotted cream! 

English teapot and cups
A traditional English cup of tea with teapot. Image: Unsplash, Seb Cumberbirch

Do the English put cream in their tea? 

The ‘cream’ in ‘cream tea’ refers to the cream that is spread on the scone that accompanies the pot of tea.  

There are some people that may choose to put pouring cream into their drink instead of milk, but this would make for a very creamy beverage.  

The cream used to spread on to a scone is clotted cream and is a much thicker consistency than cream you may pour into a hot drink. 
 

Broadway Deli
Broadway Deli, Cotswolds, where you can find a wide range of scones from savory to sweet. Image: Ben Arthur

Many of our Active England tours include a locally sourced Cream Tea during a well-earned break from walking or cycling. Devon and Cornwall are full of tea rooms and equally, the Cotswolds are home to many quaint village teashops. Here are a few of our favourites and recommendations for where to enjoy a cream tea across the UK: 

Devon:  

The Watersmeet Hotel: https://www.watersmeethotel.co.uk/  

Seaton Tramway Café: https://www.tram.co.uk/tramstop-cafe 

Ullacombe Farm: https://www.ullacombefarm.co.uk/ 

Cornwall: 

The Camel Trail Tea Garden: http://www.cameltrailteagarden.co.uk/ 

The Cherry Trees Coffee House Padstow: http://www.cherrytreescornwall.co.uk/  

Scoff Troff Café, St Ives: https://www.scofftroff.co.uk/  

Cotswolds: 

Lucys Tearoom Stow-on-the-Wold: https://lucystearoomstow.com/  

Bakery on the Water, Bourton-on-the-Water: https://www.littlebakerycompany.com/visit  

Rixy’s Cotswold Tearoom, Moreton-in-Marsh: https://www.rixyscotswoldtearoom.co.uk/  

London (these tend to be afternoon teas): 

Fortnum and Mason: https://www.fortnumandmason.com/afternoon-tea  

The Ritz: https://www.theritzlondon.com/dine-with-us/afternoon-tea/afternoon-tea-offers/traditional-afternoon-tea/  

Park Room at The JW Marriott Grosvenor Hotel: https://www.parkroom.co.uk/menus  

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Sophie

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