It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially English experience than sitting down mid-afternoon to indulge in a plate of delicious sandwiches, scones and cakes, accompanied by a refreshing pot of tea.
The ritual of taking daily afternoon tea began in the 1840s amongst the British aristocracy, who introduced it as a small meal to stave off hunger before supper, which was at the time typically served around 8pm. The practice of pausing one’s activities to consume afternoon tea soon caught on, and afternoon tea became a fashionable social event for refined ladies to enjoy with their distinguished friends.
Afternoon tea typically consists of three specific mini courses: a selection of finger sandwiches (often with their crusts cut off; cucumber sandwiches are an iconic staple here), followed by a round of homemade scones – with or without raisins – served with jam and clotted cream. The final course comprises a variety of mouthwatering sweet pastries and delicate cakes. The tea that accompanies the meal can be of any variety – Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or the highly traditional English breakfast tea, for example.
While sadly no longer a routine part of our daily lives, the custom of taking afternoon tea endures to this day. City hotels and restaurants offer the chance to rest and unwind with afternoon tea served on the finest china during a weekend shopping trip, or how about a celebratory afternoon tea with family and friends in a luxurious country house hotel for a special birthday or anniversary?
In addition to the more traditional afternoon tea famously served for example at the world-renowned hotel The Ritz London, themed teas are a recent and popular innovation. In central London alone, options for afternoon tea with a twist are many and varied, including the literary-themed Peter Pan afternoon tea at The Shard and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldwych, or even the intriguing-sounding Science afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel, which promises all manner of Science-themed delicacies! A feast for the eyes and for the mind as well as for the taste buds, no doubt…