I had originally thought it meant afternoon tea. When I asked my friends, a mix of answers came back: for some it was jam and scones. For others it was curry. Not exactly two meals you sample together.
So after a little investigation, I discovered that it meant both. The etymology of the word is difficult to trace but seems to come from an old English word, “tiffing”, meaning “to sip”. Packing the word in a steamer trunk and taking it to India, it became “tiffin”, and the description altered to mean a snack between meals. Which is exactly what afternoon tea is. According to afternoontea.co.uk, the custom was introduced in the early 19th century, possibly by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who complained of “having a sinking feeling” in the afternoon. The solution was a pot of tea and some sandwiches.
After Anna’s distress call, the traditional English “three'es” became a popular gentrified snack for those needing a little more sustenance from lunch to dining in the evening. It was also a class construction. The lower classes couldn't afford to eat more than a couple of basic meals. They took their meals earlier so they could sleep, in order to get up early for work, as well as avoid the hunger pangs.
The upper classes, however, could afford the cost and time to luxuriate in several meals.
Suffering from similar signs of hunger to Anna, I took my young daughters, Madeleine and Tilda, for a princess tea in the aptly names Tiffin Room, at Singapore's Raffles Hotel.
This was no ordinary high tea. I had expected crustless cucumber sandwiches and pretty little cakes, served on a three-tiered stand, and that's exactly what we got. But it was so much more.
In an east meets west approach, you can start with dumplings, graze on sandwiches and scones, and wind up with patisserie. Coupled with tea, coffee or bubbly, this is a meal that could take a while.
With so much choice I asked the girls for their insights, and favourite part of the meal:
Madeleine, age 7, said: “I really liked the music and it was a very grown up tea party.”
Tilda, age 5, said: “I like cake. And scones. And sandwiches. And…” The conversation went on along a similar vein for several minutes.
Whether you're looking for somewhere for a special occasion, or just fancy hiding from the heat in the colonial cool arches of this prestigious building, cossetted by history and wrapped in charm, the Raffles' afternoon tea is a relaxing experience that should be tried at least once while in Singapore.
The practical bit:
Where to find it: Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore, 189673
Contact details: email@example.com, +65 6412 1816
Random fact: A “cup of char” is a colloquial way of saying a “cup of tea”. It is similar to the Chinese word for tea - tcha. Tea was exclusively grown in China until the middle of the 19th century, when it was introduced to India.
Click here for an insight into The Raffles Hotel's curry buffet.