In the south of England, two neighboring counties have been engaged in a single culinary clash for decades, and there seems to be no end to the battle. The important issue dividing the south, and, in fact, the whole county, is: Should you put jam or cream first on your scone when assembling a cream tea?
It might not sound like much of an issue, but believe me, people are very serious about which of these two ways is the right way. A cream tea is a delightful and delicious afternoon tea ritual that involves a pot of tea, a scone or two, a small pot of jam, and a small pot of cream. The rest is up to you.
The History Of The Cream Tea
People in the UK have been enjoying cream teas since the 11th century, although back then, it was a much simpler affair and most likely consisted of bread with jam and cream. It’s not clear when the scone and the pot of tea were introduced into the setup and it was named a cream tea, but there is a mention of the cream tea in The Cornishman newspaper in 1931.
The cream tea is usually enjoyed as a part of afternoon tea, which can include sandwiches and various cakes, as well as scones, jam, and cream, but the cream tea is also served separately as an afternoon treat with a pot of tea or after lunch. In both Devon and Cornwall, there are variations on the cream tea, which still include a kind of bread roll, the Devon Split, and the Cornish Split, which is most likely the closest thing we now have to the original 11th-century cream tea.
Why Is It Contentious?
Like most neighbors, there is a degree of rivalry between Cornwall and Devon. Both counties love cream tea, and they are without a doubt the best places in the UK to try one, but they each do things a little differently and they each claim their way is the right way. In Cornwall, the scone is sliced in half and the jam is spooned onto each half, followed by a dollop of cream. In Devon, the scone is sliced in half and the clotted cream is spread on first, like butter, and a dollop of jam tops it off.
I’ve traveled around Cornwall more than I have Devon, and from childhood, I’ve always done it the Cornish way. But my daughter, who doesn’t have the cream tea background I have, recently surprised me. While enjoying a picnic, she naturally and automatically assembled her cream tea cream first. “Oh, you do it the Devon way,” I remarked. She shrugged and said it just made sense to her to do it that way.
Best Places To Enjoy A Cream Tea In Cornwall
The Honey Pot, Penzanze
Traditional cream tea at The Honey Pot is two homemade sweet scones, Rodda’s clotted cream, local strawberry jam, and a pot of tea of your choice for one. Very impressively, there’s also a vegan cream tea, which is two homemade vegan sweet scones, plant-based “clotted cream,” local strawberry jam, and a pot of tea of your choice for one. Not a fan of the sweet stuff? The Honey Pot also offers a cheese tea. Two homemade cheese scones, Cornish butter, Davidstow cheddar, cider apple chutney, and a pot of tea of your choice for one.
Carbis Bay Estate, St Ives
With incredible views of the sea and within walking distance of the beach, you can enjoy afternoon tea at this sprawling Cornish estate, Carbis Bay. Okay, so this isn’t just a cream tea, but the traditional cream tea does feature as an integral part of the afternoon tea, so I think it passes. There aren’t many places this beautiful to sit and deliberate over cream or jam first. For something extra special, enjoy a cream tea with a glass of champagne. But however you choose to enjoy yours, remember, in Cornwall, it’s jam first!
Best Places To Enjoy A Cream Tea In Devon
Dartmouth Castle Tea Rooms
This small tea room next to Dartmouth Castle is everything the cream tea is. Traditional, quirky, local, and visually pleasing. In the shadow of this ancient castle, Dartmouth Castle Tea Rooms offer a place to relax next to the sea, to sit in the sunshine, and to enjoy one of the local area’s favorite treats. The freshly baked scones used in the cream teas here are thick and dense, and perfect for piling high with cream and jam (in that order!).
Bayards Cove Inn
Set in historic Bayards Cove, the arrival point of the Mayflower in 1620, Bayards Cove Inn is a 14th century Tudor inn offering a Devon treat as old as its walls. There’s something very comforting about indulging in a cup of freshly brewed loose leaf tea, served with a huge slice of homemade cake, or taking time out to enjoy a traditional English Devon cream tea with scones, fresh cream, and jam, and here the cream tea is served all day long. Don’t forget, in Devon, it’s always cream first!
If you’re visiting either of these counties for the first time and you want to try a cream tea, but you’re worried about getting it wrong, it’s very simple. Devon is cream first, Cornwall is jam first. And just to confuse you, there are people in both counties who like it the opposite way around! So, basically, don’t worry about it, enjoy it how you like it wherever you are.
There are some fantastic ways to sample British cuisine: