Afternoon tea has been a British custom ever since its introduction to the UK in 1840 by Anna Maria, Duchess of Belvedere. As the chamberlain of the palace, the Duchess of Belford was an opinion leader at the time. She not only enjoyed afternoon tea alone, but also invited friends to join. Afterward, afternoon tea became a fashionable social event for high society in the 1880s.
Even the well-known author Henry James has a classic saying: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
A traditional afternoon tea three-tier stacker platter, from bottom to top, includes delicate sandwiches, scones & pastries, paired with teas from India or Sri Lanka, poured from silver teapots into fine china. If you want to experience afternoon tea in the UK but don’t know your way around, you can simply visit a bar/bistro situated below a well-known hotel for an orthodox English afternoon tea.
What is Afternoon Tea?
Difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea
Both “Afternoon tea” and “High tea” are classified as afternoon tea, and both terms are often used in the UK. Many people think that there is no difference between the two, but in fact there are slight differences.
The history of Afternoon tea comes from the patents of nobles and royal families in the 19th century. They mainly enjoy refreshments leisurely in the living room or tea houses dedicated to entertaining guests in mansions, known as “Low Tea”.
The word “high” in “high tea” is an extension of the word after afternoon tea entered the daily life of ordinary people.
At the beginning of the 19th century when industrialization was booming, British workers had to wait until they returned home to have tea time paired with hearty dishes as a reward for a hard day’s work. In modern times, “high tea” is mostly enjoyed leisurely with platters of various small dishes, centred around tea.
Many people are unable to sit down to scones and cakes in the early evening because of work, so for many, the ritual of afternoon tea is often reserved for holidays and special occasions. But Afternoon tea is still a quintessentially British tradition, and many Brits will still find time to sit down and enjoy the etiquette and courtesy of the quaintest British dining customs.
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In the hush of afternoon’s golden hours, the world pauses for a serenade of elegance and indulgence known as Afternoon Tea. Delicate porcelain cups cradle liquid amber while laughter dances through the air, a respite from the hurry of time.
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About English Afternoon Tea
Tea – English Afternoon Tea
The first choice for English afternoon tea is Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and English breakfast tea, but there are also other secondary options such as green tea and scented tea. The more exotic varieties are also often considered among the options offered at afternoon tea.
Sandwiches – English Afternoon Tea
Traditional English afternoon tea is usually served with ham & mustard, smoked salmon & cream cheese, and egg & cress sandwiches. However, although these three are among the most common, many other sandwich fillings can also be found on sandwich platters that include coronation chicken, prawns, and cured meats.
The most important thing for English afternoon tea sandwiches is that they should be no thicker than 2 fingers, because they need to be eaten simply and elegantly.
Scones – English Afternoon Tea
Although scones have been around since the 1500s, it wasn’t until the 1800s that they became popular. Scones can be served with sweet and savoury spreads, but mostly with cream, artisan jams and honey.
There is also the so-called “cream tea”, which refers to a complete set of tea, two scones, with clotted cream and jam on the side, which is almost a must-have set for British teahouses.
Cakes and Pastries – English Afternoon Tea
Cake options for afternoon tea include Victoria sponge cake, Bakewell pie, carrot cake and Battenberg cake. There are also chocolate puffs, raspberry mille-feuille and crème brûlée tarts.
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Afternoon Tea in England
If you want to experience an English afternoon tea, there are many restaurants in London to choose from. Hotels offering traditional afternoon tea include Claridges, Dorchester, Ritz and Savoy, as well as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason.
In addition, there are dozens of manor-style English afternoon tea services spread out across the boroughs where you can enjoy afternoon tea in the garden of a classical building hundreds of years old.
Cliveden House (Berkshire) – England Afternoon Tea
For a traditional afternoon tea with beautiful views, Cliveden House, an hour’s drive from London, is an award-winning five-star hotel and remains one of the most iconic and exclusive country house retreats to this day.
Cliveden House was built in 1666 by Duke the second of Buckingham and has sumptuous decorations in the great dining room overlooking the National Gardens and across the River Thames.
Cliveden is currently offering a Platinum Jubilee afternoon tea menu, which includes traditional classic British sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon with caviar, and roast beef with spicy bacon.
In addition to this, the afternoon tea also includes four savoury dishes, one of each that represents English, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Orestone Manor (Devon) – England Afternoon Tea
Orestone Manor is a country house hotel, a magnificent manor house with stunning sea views in the beautiful South Devon coastal village of Maidencombe.
Orestone Manor’s quaint afternoon tea can be enjoyed on the al fresco terrace or in the dining room, either indoors or out overlooking the sea. The Orestone Manor Afternoon Tea generously includes cake, soft brownies and chocolate panna cotta, followed by scones, jam and cream.
Fortnum & Mason – England Afternoon Tea
Founded in 1707, Fortnum & Mason is an iconic department store specialising in quintessentially English tea hampers and is well worthy of a historical experience.
Even the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge have come to set up shop for Fortnum & Mason. Fortnum & Mason’s service is still impeccable, the signature eau de nil china is as elegant as ever, and the menu is refined without sacrificing decorum.
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In the hush of the afternoon, where sunlight paints lace on porcelain, Afternoon Tea unfolds like a sonnet. It’s an ode to elegance, where fragrant brews and dainty pastries compose a melody of refined indulgence.
The far-reaching influence of British afternoon tea culture
It was not until 1870 that Britain began to pay attention to women’s formal education. Before that, girls rarely had the right to be taught.
Afternoon tea culture initiated by the Duchess of Belford influenced life in Britain at that time and afternoon tea parties gave women many opportunities of knowledge exchanges, enabling women to acquire more information.
In addition, due to the popularity of afternoon tea, cafes where only men could participate at the time gradually evolved as teahouses where women could gather, indirectly changing the way of life.
The next time you visit the UK, don’t forget to arrange an afternoon tea that can be enjoyed by sight and taste, and experience the British tea drinking culture.
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