Afternoon Tea is unmistakably a truly British custom that’s become a worldwide phenomenon. Who wouldn’t enjoy taking a break from the day to nibble on delicious treats? We certainly would, so we’ve put together this article to give you the low down on this lovely tradition. Now you can not only experience it for yourself but also take it home to start your own lady of leisure society.
History of the Tradition
The tradition of afternoon tea began in England by the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840. Every day at around four in the afternoon, the Duchess found herself becoming hungry as dinner wasn't served until late in the evening. She began to request that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be sent to her room in the late afternoon.
Eventually, the Duchess started inviting friends to join her in her new daytime activity and it proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." Other ladies of leisure quickly picked up on the idea, and the practice even became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room.
How to make Afternoon Tea at home
If you want to recreate one the of the Duchess of Bedford’s popular afternoon tea parties for yourself, there are some essentials you must know..
- A Selection of Teas: Classic tea like English breakfast and Earl Grey are a staple for any afternoon tea but don’t be afraid to have some fun choices like vanilla, rose, green, lemon ginger or jasmine tea.
- Sandwiches: It wouldn’t be afternoon tea without cucumber sandwich - slice some fresh cucumbers, butter some white bread and voila- you might like to add a thin layer of plain cream cheese instead of butter. Another classic is smoked salmon sandwiches with dill and creme fraiche on brown bread. You can’t have an afternoon tea without the classic egg sandwich on brown bread sliced into fingers, with no crusts.
- Scones with Jam & Clotted Cream: A selection of raisin scones and plain scones served warm with lashings of clotted cream and jam are a must.
- Sweets: A selection of macarons, sponge cake or lemon drizzle cake is an afternoon tea essential. If you want to get a little crazy add a few bubbles, Champagne always adds to the majesty of it all.
Once you’ve got the food right, a well-decorated table will complete the afternoon tea experience. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you can pick up some vintage teacups and cake stands from your local thrift store. Pick up some fresh flowers and a tablecloth and your all set. Now you just need an opportunity to show off your afternoon tea skills for an upcoming event, try it for a baby shower or even bridal shower, to mix it up you could fill your teapot with Gin and Tonic and sip it from your teacup.
Afternoon Tea Options
Maybe recreating afternoon tea at home isn’t for you, we’ve found some cool options around London for you to try during your vacation.
- If you want to indulge – Claridge’s
If you want the quintessential afternoon tea experience, then head to Claridge’s in London’s Mayfair. Set in the splendor of Thierry Despont’s Foyer and inspired by the 1930s’ art deco, Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s is truly a magical experience. It has received numerous awards of excellence by the Tea Guild, for its presentation of English specialties like raisin and apple scones, Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo gelée. Claridge’s also holds the title of ‘Best Traditional Afternoon Tea’ in 2016. Claridge’s is also kid-friendly and offers a special Children’s Tea.
- Something Out of the Ordinary – Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea
Inspired by Alice In Wonderland and the potions Alice samples, the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea has been created for the young at heart. Discover menus hidden inside vintage books, teapots adorned with kings and queens and sandwich plates decorated with zebras, birdcages and ticking clocks. Enjoy a mix of sweet and savory treats like Stack of King of Hearts Ham, Parmesan Croque-monsieur, Queen of Heats Rose and Strawberry Jammy Dodger. Don’t worry fancy dress is not required so you can leave your bunny ears at home!
- Afternoon Tea like a Royal – Rubens at the Palace
What could be better than sitting back and overlooking the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace? Afternoon tea at Rubens is heavily influenced by Royal events and dining trends throughout the years. Inspired by Her Majesty the Queen’s, the House of Stuart, Prince William and Prince Harry, the Royal Afternoon Tea will leave you feeling like royalty. Make sure to try Rubens Chocolate Cake: Chocolate is known as a favorite of the Queen, she is even said to have a piece of chocolate and a glass of Champagne each evening before bed.
- The Healthy Option – Browns Hotel. TEA-TOX Healthy Afternoon Tea By Celebrated wellness chef Madeleine Shaw. People want to spoil themselves when they visit luxurious hotels, but treating yourself doesn’t have to mean eating lots of unhealthy food. Madeleine Shaw’s afternoon tea at the prestigious Brown’s Hotel, will satisfy your cravings and but still leave you feeling guilt-free and jam-packed with nutritious treats and a generous helping of delicious flavor. Sample a healthy take on the classics like miso glazed salmon and radish on spinach bread. Located in the heart of Mayfair, Brown's Hotel is elegant but without a hint of stuffiness that one might expect due to the prestigious address and it’s five-star rating.
- Afternoon Tea with a View - Oblix. Located on the 32nd floor of the Shard, Tea with a view offers guests the chance to explore London’s skyline while enjoying a modern twist on a traditional English afternoon tea. Oblix serves up a London-inspired menu, taking guests "on a culinary journey throughout and beyond the city." The flour for the scones comes from the E5 Bakehouse in Hackney; the cured Angus beef comes from Cannon & Cannon's in Lambeth, the chai spices from Brick Lane market, honeycomb from local bees in Harrow, and the sea buckthorn for the meringue tart comes from East Sussex.
- Afternoon Tea on a budget – The Fan Museum. Located in the Fan Museum in Greenwich, this unique garden room is covered in beautiful murals overlooking a ‘secret’ garden in the Japanese style. It offers the perfect space to unwind with a choice of delicious teas, which have received much praise over the years. At £8.00 per person + museum admission fee of £4, it’s the perfect afternoon tea on a budget. Sample the classic Victoria Sponge with a choice of lemon drizzle cake or salted caramel brownie served a with scones, clotted cream & jam.
If you're looking to discover London and experience afternoon tea for yourself why not try out one of Afternoon Tea Tours in London.