Afternoon tea became popular in England in 1840 when the seventh Duchess of Bedford began having a light meal around four. What began with tea, bread and cake soon became an excuse for having guests over and fashionable women would dress to the hilt in hat and gloves for the social event that became a tradition. Nowadays afternoon tea is a special event consisting of scones, sandwiches, pastries and cakes served with tea brewed in silver pots and poured into bone china cups.
Some of the finer hotels in London offer a superb afternoon tea – each with their own flair:
The Ritz – The hotel has been serving afternoon teas for more than 100 years, making it the place to go when in the city. You must dress for tea and adding a glass of champagne to your meal is just a small extra charge.
The Goring – Located close to Buckingham Palace, the hotel offers a delightful experience of tea on the terrace overlooking the hotel’s private garden. The Goring also has the option of champagne and serves traditional sandwiches and pastries with absolute elegance.
Claridge’s – Tea is the star of this tea; Claridge’s has a selection of teas from around the world to accompany the traditional scones and clotted cream.
Shangri-La – They do offer a traditional tea (with a stunning view from the 30th floor) but you can get an Asian alternative to the English pastries as your meal. Snack on Chinese dumplings and egg custard for a unique meal.
Often the large hotel is the first place to check for afternoon tea in any city:
The Balmoral, Edinburgh – A bit more affordable than London (if you skip the champagne), the setting at the Balmoral is also a delight. Sit under the glass-domed ceiling to enjoy a selection of teas while the harpist plays in the background.
Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh – The former railway station concourse is the setting for tea and the grand architecture adds to the feeling of luxury. Finger sandwiches and pastries are offered with an optional glass of Perrier.
Luton Loo, Bedfordshire – The beautiful mansion house has several rooms to choose from when sitting down to tea. The 18th century building is a delightful setting for enjoying the traditional fare.
Grand Cafe, Southampton – The first class passengers on the Titanic dined here before setting off and the hotel retains its luxurious feel. Sit in French Renaissance opulence while enjoying your surprisingly affordable tea.
Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire – You can get a manly afternoon tea served in the delicate conservatory. Your gentleman will be delighted with the pork pie, scotch egg and the ever-so-much-better-than-tea pint of ale. Traditional fare is available for the lighter appetite.
Jesmonde Dene House, Newcastle – Few hotels offer high tea in this city, but Jesmonde Dene takes care to make sure their selection is suitable for all. Roast beef sandwiches and fresh fruit are included with the more standard pastries and scones.
The Angel, Wales – An excellent place for afternoon tea on a dreary day, a welcoming fire is lit in the charming Wedgewood room and tea is served with savoury pastries. A selection of wine and champagne is available also.
Pennyhill Park, Surrey – A pianist may accompany your meal which consists of the traditional offerings of scones with clotted cream, pastries and homemade sandwiches. A Celebration Tea is available for those special occasions when tea needs to come with cake and champagne.
Country Manors are found all over Britain and many have excellent afternoon teas:
Combe House, Devon – Scones, sandwiches and homemade shortbread are served with a view of the lovely Devon countryside. Plenty of éclairs, tarts and other sweets are also available.
Crewe Hall, Cheshire – King George V and Queen Mary dined here and you will feel just as royally treated when you taste your handmade treats. Classy touches such as the tea-timer and a glass of sherry when you arrive seem almost over-the-top when you realize how inexpensive your meal is.
Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire – Your elegant tea is served with a view of the estates in the orangery. If you’re feeling truly decadent, you can opt for the Chocolate Afternoon Tea.
Restaurants in some places have made afternoon tea a priority:
Betty’s, York – The bakery has been around since 1937 and your tea, served the historic Belmont Room, is filled with handmade cakes and set to piano music by the cafe pianist.
RosyLee Tearooms, Manchester – A lovely respite from the bustling city, tea is served with a homely touch and plenty of freshly made cakes and scone.
The Pump Room, Bath – Go straight for the Celebration Champagne Tea and enjoy a tasting tray of their house champagnes. The food is locally sourced for all their teas and the Pump House Trio plays daily.