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London Afternoon Tea

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Afternoon tea is one of the most quintessentially British traditions that exists

The indulgent meal involves eating cake, sandwiches, scones and drinking plenty of tea. Afternoon tea is amongst multiple meals invented by the British, perhaps to keep up with our large appetites; however, nowadays afternoon tea isn't perceived to be a daily event but instead a tradition that's seen as a treat. It's fair to say that if you were to indulge in afternoon tea daily, it'd become much harder to fasten your trousers. Perhaps this is reason why it's now only eaten for special occasions, saving gluttony for parties and Christmas!

Who knew there was so much to know when stuffing your face with cake?

A lot has changed over the years, especially the etiquette of afternoon tea and how it's served, from being a social event in the day to simply a biscuit or small piece of cake and some tea. On a day out in the capital, a traditional London afternoon tea is a brilliant way to relax when you're exploring the city. It's for this reason why we've put together a guide to London afternoon tea, so you know the best places to eat, what to say and how to eat it.

History of Afternoon Tea

Although we've been drinking tea for centuries on this island, the concept of afternoon tea didn't appear until the mid-19th century. Afternoon tea all started with Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess would often become rather hungry around 4pm, because she had her dinner fashionably late at eight and would need a snack in the long hours between lunch and dinner.

One day in 1840, the Duchess had an idea that'd solve the issue of her late afternoon hunger. She decided that a tray of bread and butter with cake and tea would solve her hunger, so she ordered it to be brought to her room at four o'clock in the afternoon. This tasty afternoon snack became a habit and eventually the Duchess started to invite her friends to join her. There you have it; the traditional meal of afternoon tea was invented.

Over many years, afternoon tea became a tradition and a social event for upper-class women in the 1880s. Afternoon tea became a fashionable social event where women would wear long gowns, hats and gloves. The social event would take place in a drawing room between 4pm and 5pm.

Nowadays afternoon tea is eaten across the country and is perceived to be a treat perfect for a fun day out! Afternoon tea in London is a sophisticated and quintessentially British affair which is extremely popular with tourists visiting the capital.

Why Did Drinking Tea Become So Popular?

Everyone likes a relaxing and thirst-quenching cup of tea, it's warming, comforting and enjoyed throughout the day. But, where did the love of tea start and how did it become so popular? Tea drinking didn't start in Britain, like most things we imported it from China. Tea drinking dates to the third millennium BC in China and the love of tea in Britain blossomed much later in the 1660s. This happened when King Charles II and his wife Catherine De Braganza popularised drinking the delicious beverage.

Catherine De Braganza played a big role in popularising tea drinking in Britain. The Portuguese princess grew up drinking tea in her royal circle because it was imported to Portugal; however, Britain lagged behind the fashion of tea drinking. Catherine's love of drinking tea lead to it being imported to Britain and there after impacted the popularity of drinking it.

It was on Catherine's arrival in England that she requested a cup of tea but was told that tea was not imported to Britain and that she could drink an ale instead. Obviously, this did not impress the princess and it instead made her ill! It's not surprising she relished in the fad that was tea drinking in the royal courts and greatly encouraged the fashion. After the establishment of the East India Company, the British tea trade grew massively, and tea grew in popularity.

However, aside to Catherine the Portuguese princess, tea became popular outside of China because it's so delicious and it goes perfectly with breakfast and cake! It's no wonder tea grew to the popularity it has to date, as the nation's favourite hot beverage.

Should You Add the Milk First?

For years, people have argued and debated over whether when making a cup of tea you should put the milk in the cup first or last. This debate has been answered by Fortnum and Mason who have carefully thought about the topic of discussion.

According to Fortnum and Mason, the milk fist debate can be answered with the following; pouring the milk first was something done to prove you had the most expensive and delicate china, as pouring the milk first would prevent fine china from breaking as the heat of the brewed tea was rather hot.

However, this was the correct way doing things in the elite social circles of the 19th century, so you should drink your tea how you please!

However, milk can drastically change the taste of your tea, so whether you like your tea black or in fact prefer green or more floral teas (which should never have milk added to them!), it's something that deserves a debate.

What is Afternoon Tea Etiquette?

Afternoon tea was traditionally eaten by the upper classes in the 19th century, so naturally there's a certain etiquette to follow when indulging in the late afternoon feast. Here's a few rules to follow when eating the delicious late afternoon snack at a London afternoon tea.

What is the Difference Between High Tea and Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea and high tea are often confused. They both have similar names but there are a few differences. So, let's straighten a few things out!

Afternoon tea is traditionally eaten at 4pm as a snack between lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea consists of scones, sandwiches and cakes, all served with tea! The tradition originally enjoyed by aristocracy and the upper classes is now a treat enjoyed by everyone. The afternoon snack was traditionally served on low tables.

However, high tea is a bit different. Although the names are similar, high tea includes a main hot dish as well as the delicious sides of afternoon tea.

The hot dish could be anything from cheese on toast to a pie, often served with cold meats, potatoes and salad. Like afternoon tea, high tea was originally eaten by the aristocracy and upper classes, served at high tables with high backed posh chairs, hence the name high tea. However, high tea became popular in the working classes in the industrial revolution and was used as substance for hard labour. Usually eaten at 6pm, high tea is commonly known as simply tea and was a substantial evening meal!

High tea and afternoon tea are completely different even though many like to call afternoon tea high tea simply because it sounds fancy, but this is far from what the meal was intended for and afternoon tea is, in fact, the traditional treat!

The scone debates

Scones are probably one of the most British foods out there. Even though we don't know who the great person was that invented them, they did originate from the British Isles. In the 20th century, scones became a great addition to the traditional afternoon tea, and they're best served warm oozing with clotted cream and strawberry jam. They're no doubt a perfect snack to be eaten with breakfast tea!

There is, however, some debates around scones, how to pronounce them and how to eat them? These are debates British people can have for hours, so here's a little help in hand with the confusion.

Scones; are they pronounced to rhyme with ‘gone' or ‘bone'? Both is the short answer! It's an endless debate which can probably be answered by the fact that it's simply down to a difference in regional dialect. Whether you say scone so it sounds like ‘gone' or ‘bone', I'm sure we can all agree they're an awesome invention and are absolutely delicious!

Scones are best warm oozing with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but which goes first on a scone, the jam or the clotted cream? Again, the answer is that both ways are correct, but one is traditionally the Cornish way of eating cream tea and the other the Devonian way. If you're in Cornwall, the proper way assembling your scone is to split the scone in two and spread the jam on first with a dollop of clotted cream on top to finish. However, in Devon, you're expected to spread the cream on first and then add the jam as the finishing touches.

The Earl of Sandwich

Sandwiches are a classic part of an afternoon tea, delicately cut into small squares filled with thinly sliced ham, cucumber, cheese and salmon. These delicious bite-sized savoury treats are a classic essential in afternoon tea, wherever you decide to dine for your afternoon tea in London, you can expect sandwiches to be on the menu. In afternoon tea, you can expect the sandwiches to be carefully cut into small squares and neatly placed on dainty plates. Sandwiches are a traditionally British afternoon snack that has been eaten for centuries, but who is behind this marvellous savoury snack?

In 1762, the earl of Sandwich John Montague, during a 24-hour gambling streak ordered for some food to be made for him. He wanted the food to be prepared in such a way that it wouldn't interfere with his game. The cook then returned with a slice of meat placed between two slices of bread. This was the perfect food to allow him to continue his gambling streak and eat at the same time! Since the sandwich has been eaten by all and it makes a great savoury treat in afternoon tea.

What is the Perfect Cream Tea?

There are many places across Britain that you can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea, from the finest hotels in London to quaint tearooms in Cornwall and Devon which are famous for their cream teas. Cream tea simply refers to scones served with jam and clotted cream, which makes a great addition to the variety of sweet and savoury treats served at an afternoon tea. The best cream tea is served with jam and clotted cream oozing from the scone with a pot of tea to help the sweet treat go down.

Why Should You Eat Afternoon Tea in London?

Afternoon tea in London is the perfect way to perk you up post-lunch after a stroll along the South Bank, or perhaps a visit to one of London's galleries. If you've got a sweet tooth, it's a delightful way to bring an end to a day out. Whatever the occasion, London afternoon tea is a great way to sit back and relax while you enjoy some delicious food. Afternoon tea is a foodie's delight. With a variety of places that offer quirky and classic afternoon teas, you can experience afternoon tea like no other place in the country! Far from the traditional afternoon tea from the Cornish tea rooms in the south of England, London offers a different take on the traditional as well as the classic scone, sandwiches and cakes. Indulge in pastries which explore new flavours, gin infused cakes, spices and decorative designs, all in the heart of London.

See all London Afternoon Tea Experiences »

Where Can You Find the Best Afternoon Tea in London?

Best Traditional Afternoon Tea in London

The most delightful cream teas can be found in the south of England, from the countryside of the West Country in Devon and Cornwall in quaint tearooms to the finest hotels in central London. If you're looking for a relaxing break from the bustling capital, then pop inside one of London's sophisticated and quintessentially British tearooms to treat yourself to a traditional afternoon tea or simple cream tea. Take a trip through Soho and Covent Garden to explore the taste of afternoon tea in London, tasting delicious scones and the perfect combination of clotted cream and jam. Make your afternoon treat a bit classier with a glass of Champagne or prosecco as you dine in some of London's top end tearooms and hotels.

Fortnum and Mason

Piccadilly, London, W1A 1ER

Dine in Fortnum and Mason and transport back to the roaring 20s with fine teas, delicate cake and sandwiches all served on china stacked on a cake carriage. Fortnum and Mason offer 92 teas and serve pastries which are so delicately made and presented that they are an art form. If you want to experience the high-end service of afternoon tea in London without it being too stuffy then this is the perfect place to enjoy your afternoon tea treat.

Claridge's

Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR

Give your taste buds a tantalising experience at Claridge's in Mayfair with their traditional afternoon tea. This is an afternoon tea with class, high end taste and gracious and discrete service. With fresh roses and classical musicians playing in the corner, afternoon tea at Claridge's is an unforgettable experience. Afternoon tea served with Champagne, spectacular pastries and deliciously moist and full sandwiches is a cause for celebration and a perfect day out for couples.

Ritz Hotel

150 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9BR

One of the most famous places for afternoon tea in London is the Ritz Hotel. Tea at the Ritz is an unmissable experience on your visit to London. Visit the Ritz and enjoy the decadence of the stunning hotel full of splendour and of course a luxurious afternoon tea. The magnificent Ritz is famous for delivering a high standard of service with traditional values, making it brilliant for a special occasion.

Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea in London

Afternoon tea in London doesn't have to be the old fashioned and traditional daintily cut cucumber sandwiches. There are plenty of new and quirky afternoon teas to get your mouth watering.

Take a tour across London on the B-Bakery afternoon tea bus and indulge in a selectin of delicious cakes, pastries and sandwiches. B-bakery offers a French twist on the traditional British afternoon tea that you can enjoy from the comfort of a double decker bus. Ride past the famous landmarks of London from Big Ben to the London Eye all while you sip on tea and enjoy the taste bud tingling cakes.

Ampersand Hotel

10 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ER

After a day of wondering the city by foot you'll want to take a break and a delicious London afternoon tea is the perfect way to do it. There are plenty of delicious but quirky London afternoon tea destinations, some tea rooms serve a themed afternoon treat. Perhaps you've just visited the science museum and need some sustenance to get you through the rest of the day, in which case The Ampersand Hotel in London hosts a terrific science themed afternoon tea. This may sound rather bizarre, but this quirky tea is delicious. The tea is served on a classic tea stand the meal includes planet shaped mousse and chocolate dinosaur fossils and to make it a little more adult, you can also sip on Champagne while you dine here.

The Aqua

32 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9SG

Dine at the Aqua in the Shard for an afternoon tea with a spoon full of sugar. This is the Mary Poppins inspired afternoon tea in London. The classic British meal has taken inspiration from the classic British film and an afternoon tea full of brioche and fluffy sandwiches. Fancy twists like spun candy floss and a cake stand in the design of Mary Poppin's umbrella make it a unique experience. You can indulge in Mary's favourite afternoon tea treats from the Shard in London, enjoy salmon on crumpets and ginger biscuits with a selection of blended teas in this afternoon tea that sits in the sky.

Las Iguanas

Las Iguanas, 15-17 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury

Afternoon Tea in London doesn't just have to be inspired by English traditions, you can now enjoy an afternoon tea with a Cuban twist at Las Iguanas. Presented in a smoking cigar box, this afternoon tea is boozy and delicious. Enjoy a cup of Havana Club Rum tea mixed with lemon and grapefruit, smoking cigar sandwiches, tapas, tacos and dulce de leche cookies. The Las Iguanas afternoon tea in London serves their award-winning Cuban cigar sandwiches with this smokin' hot twist on the traditional afternoon tea.

Best boozy and bottomless afternoon tea in London

London afternoon tea wouldn't be a celebration without the bottomless drinks and alcohol infused treats. Across the capital, you can enjoy a boozy afternoon tea as a delicious and tipsy afternoon treat. Traditionally afternoon tea can be served with a glass of Champagne, just to make it a bit more sophisticated and fun! Enjoy a tipple with your tea, from cocktails to prosecco and Champagne to gin, afternoon tea goes well with a classy beverage as an addition to tea.

B-Bakery

6-7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London

B-bakery in Covent Garden puts on a delicious spread for afternoon tea which is a gin lovers paradise, it includes a Hayman's Gin cocktail with gin-infused delights.

Café Rouge

Café Rouge, 32-34 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London

Just like bottomless brunch, you can indulge in unlimited prosecco with your afternoon tea in Café rouge, this afternoon tea served with free-flowing fizz is a brilliant way to celebrate in London!

Best affordable afternoon tea in London

Afternoon Tea in London doesn't have to break the bank, you can sit back and relax as you enjoy your delicious afternoon treat without worrying about money. With these afternoon tea restaurants, you can indulge in cake almost guilt free!

Revs

95-97 Clapham High Street, London

This cheap and cheerful tipsy afternoon tea will leave you feeling almost completely guilt free. A traditional Afternoon Tea at revs also includes a cheeky cocktail, which perfectly compliments the selection of cakes, scones and sandwiches. At only £15 per person, an afternoon tea in revs is a great accompaniment to a day of partying.

Café Rouge

32-34 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London

Afternoon Tea at Café Rouge is also only £15 and with the lovely addition of a glass of prosecco, what's not to love? Serving a French twist on the traditional afternoon tea, here you'll be sure to have some delicious food and a great time all without breaking the bank.

Best alternative afternoon tea in London

If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, then these alternative afternoon tea treats are a brilliant way to spend your day out in London.

Las Iguanas

15-17 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury

Smoking cigars and Havana Club Rum tea, this afternoon tea in Las Iguanas certainly has an alternative take on the traditional treat with its very own Cuban twist. Indulge in tapas, tacos, wraps, cookies and Cuban cigar wraps served in a smoking cigar box.

Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea

50 Berners Street, London

Step into the whimsical world of Alice in Wonderland and dive straight down the rabbit hole. With menus hidden inside vintage books and food labelled "drink me" and "eat me" you'll feel in the heart of the Mad Hatter tea party with this afternoon tea.

Best Instagrammable afternoon tea in London

There are plenty of snap worthy tearooms, hotels and restaurants with amazing décor and spectacular looking food across London. It's these picture-perfect designs that make afternoon tea irresistibly instagrammble and at the top of that long list of instagrammable afternoon tea is Sketch.

Sketch

9 Conduit St, W1S 2XG

Perfectly pink scalloped chairs and walls full of David Shrigley pictures, this is arguably the most atheistically pleasing tearoom in London. The explosion of millennial pink covers the picture-perfect tearoom making it a great for an Instagram post. You simply won't be able to resist its aesthetic lighting and perfectly laid out gourmet cakes.

Best vegan afternoon tea in London

Afternoon tea is a famous British tradition and a delightful treat for a day out in London, but this afternoon treat is also famously full of scones filled with clotted cream and sandwiches packed with meats and cheeses. As delicious as this is, it's not so vegan friendly but alas London is on the pulse and is home to many tea rooms that serve a vegan afternoon tea. So, prepare to dive straight into a delicious platter of cakes and sandwiches with our guide to the 5 best vegan afternoon teas in London.

B-bakery

6-7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London

Most famously known for its afternoon tea bus, B-bakery has a tearoom in Covent Garden and a touring bus, both of which serve a spectacular vegan alternative. Sit back and relax and see the sights of London as you enjoy the ride on a vintage bus full of vegan delights. Alternatively, their chic Covent Garden tea rooms also offers a French take on the British tradition serving vegan meat and dairy-free versions of their traditional finger sandwiches. Indulge in cucumber and beetroot sandwiches with avocado and carrot roll and mixed vegetables on ciabatta, not forgetting the dessert of vegan chocolate mousse, lemon drizzle cake or a vegan cup cake.

Cake Boy

Unit B, Kingfisher House, Battersea Reach, Juniper Drive, SW18 1TX

Cake Boy may be a little bit further out but that doesn't stop it from being any more delicious. The tasty tearoom located in Battersea is known by the London foodies and is a must visit if you're looking for some great cake and most importantly great vegan cake. Here you'll be served a fancy selection of red velvet cake, French raspberry macarons and an avocado and Peruvian cup. There's also a delightful selection of savoury treats of olive sourdough with Moroccan coriander humus and a mini loaf with pistachio pesto.

Café Forty-One

La Suite West - Hyde Park, 41-51 Inverness Terrace, London, W2 3JN

Café Forty-One is a completely vegan restaurant and the first vegan restaurant to be opened as part of a hotel. Part of La suit West in Hyde Park, it's not only in a brilliant location, but it also offers a chic and completely vegan afternoon tea right in the heart of London. Serving a wonderful selection of vegan sandwiches, scones and even vegan clotted cream this place will have your taste buds tingling for more!

Farmacy

Farmacy Kitchen, 74 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 5SH

Farmacy offers an alternative London afternoon tea experience; not only is it plant-based but it also goes that extra mile and is the first restaurant to serve CBD (cannabidiol). Don't worry CBD is a non- psychoactive and apparently prevents hangovers! This restaurant serves up a delicious afternoon tea which is free from dairy, refined sugars, additives and chemicals, all it's full of is tasty sweet and savoury treats full of nutrients and CBD.

By Chloe

4-5- Langham Pl Marylebone London W1B 3DG

By Chloe is a colourful and entirely vegan afternoon tea in central London that'll take you back with its nostalgic revival of a children's party. With colour everywhere at this afternoon tea, you can forget the traditional etiquette. Here it's fun over formality with crayons and bright cakes. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere here at Chloe's where they actually encourage you to scribble over the tablecloth! Dive into smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches or even delightful savoury treats made from marinated tomato fillets, seaweed and smoked chipotle. Of course, there are plenty colourful bakes including rainbow star-shaped scones, chocolate whoopie pies and red velvet cupcakes.

Top 10 Places for a Tea Party in London

Whether it's afternoon tea for two in London or for a big group celebration, it isn't just an afternoon snack. When you're dining in the capital you can make it a celebration. Whatever the occasion, a tea party in London is a brilliant way to celebrate. Indulge in a delicious afternoon tea for your birthday or hen party in London and enjoy a selection of mouth-watering treats. Enjoy the finer things in life at The Ritz or get amazed by the quirky afternoon teas at Las Iguanas. The quintessentially British tradition of afternoon tea is something that can be a casual get together and a much-needed chat with friends to a fine dining experience in the city centre. However sophisticated you want your London afternoon tea to be, remember the traditional etiquette and save those mouth-watering cakes till last! So, get ready to feast on delightful cakes with the final round up of the top 10 London afternoon teas.


Written by
Becky Whittaker


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