A Guide to Afternoon Tea
Along with Wimbledon, Her Majesty the Queen and talking about the weather, afternoon tea is a cornerstone of British culture. As delicious as it is fancy, indulging in an afternoon tea is a great excuse to get on your glad rags and make some special memories with friends and family over the fluffiest of scones.
But, before you sip on the finest of brews and stick your pinky in the air, what exactly is afternoon tea and how does it work? Here, we’ve put together everything you need to know about this tasty pre-dinner treat, as well as some afternoon tea ideas to help you enjoy a slice of the very best of British.
What is afternoon tea?
The epitome of Britishness, afternoon tea was made popular in the 19th Century by socialite Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who found herself a little hungry in the afternoon.
Traditionally served at 4pm to fill the long wait between lunch and dinner, changing lifestyles and habits have meant that afternoon tea is now much more of a treat in modern times, rather than a practical mid-afternoon stop-gap.
Nowadays, afternoon tea tends to be a delicacy reserved for special occasions. Whether you’re marking an anniversary, birthday or just fancy a luxurious day out, afternoon tea is both a brilliant and delicious way to celebrate in style.
What’s in an afternoon tea?
Whilst Anna’s aristocratic afternoon tea would have looked very different back in the 1800s, the core elements have largely remained the same. One could have expected to have a pot of tea, finger sandwiches, cakes and a slice of bread and butter. As time has progressed, the offering of old underwent a bit of an upgrade, with bread and butter being substituted for its much more delicious counterpart – and modern afternoon tea staple – scones! If you were to go for a ‘typical’ afternoon tea in this day and age, you’d be treated to a pot of hot tea, delicious sandwiches, sweet pastries, tasty cakes and lots of scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam. Plus, if you’re feeling extra fancy, you can also opt for an afternoon tea with a cold glass of fizz to toast your fantastic experience-planning. Suffice to say, we have a lot to thank the seventh Duchess of Bedford for!
Do you put jam or cream on scones first?
Many a friendship have been tested by this passionate debate – should you put jam or cream on scones first? Well, the answer is that it kind of depends on where you lay your hat. Traditionally, the Cornish method is to cut the scone in half, spread the jam on the base with a knife and then add a dollop of clotted cream. Meanwhile, the Devonshire method is to also split the scone into two halves, but to then cover each half of the scone with clotted cream and then jam. It’s a tough call, but as with all things concerning British etiquette, we must look to the Queen herself for guidance. Fortunately for us, the Queen’s former chef Darren McGrady spilled the beans just last year, revealing that Her Majesty does in fact put jam on a scone first. Sorry, Devonians.
What is high tea vs afternoon tea?
Although it sounds extremely well-to-do darling, high tea is not as fancy as you’d think and is actually very different to its more decadent cousin.
Afternoon Tea Ideas
Now you know the history, you’ve probably worked up quite the appetite. It’s time to do some research and discover the best afternoon teas in the UK! From bottomless Champagne teas to afternoon treats on a vintage 1960s Routemaster, check out our best afternoon tea ideas below.
Bottomless Champagne Afternoon Tea for Two at The Rubens at the Palace
Victoria - West London
We’re holding no punches with our first recommendation – afternoon tea at The Rubens at the Palace is about as regal as it gets. A historic hotel in Victoria overlooking the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace, this iconic building is well-known for its exceptional heritage and unsurpassed hospitality. Slip into your fineries and take a seat in The Palace Lounge, ready to receive a traditional afternoon tea with some delicious twists along the way. Dine on a selection of finger sandwiches, stunning pastries and fluffy scones with clotted cream and homemade seasonal fruit preserve whilst sipping on fine – and bottomless – Champagne.
Champagne Afternoon Tea for Two in The Domes at London Secret Garden Kensington
South Kensington - West London
Looking for something a little different? Add a slice of magic to your afternoon tea with a visit to London Secret Garden’s enchanting dining space. Hidden away in quaint Kensington, guests can while the afternoon away over scones, sandwiches and Champagne in the comfort of a bespoke and intimate transparent dome. From umami duck spring rolls to pistachio and white chocolate cake, this unique afternoon tea is sure to get your taste buds tingling from the hidden comfort of your very own garden dome. This secret’s too good not to share!
Bottomless Gin Afternoon Tea for Two at MAP Maison
Haggerston - East London
If bubbles aren’t your thing, how about some delicious Mother’s Ruin to go along with your afternoon tea? Nestled in the bustling streets of Shoreditch, the stunning MAP Maison will take you on an exploration of taste sensation. Tuck into a delectable afternoon tea with a twist, as you enjoy tapas-inspired bites, from iberico ham and sun-dried tomatoes to mozzarella crostini and red velvet cake. To wash it all down, you and your guest have a choice between bottomless gin cocktails, G&Ts or prosecco for a full 90 minutes. Fill your boots!
Afternoon Tea London Bus Tour for Two with Brigit’s Bakery
Victoria - West London &Charing Cross - London West End
The vintage 1960s Routemaster Bus is as quintessentially British as it comes. And now you can alight here for afternoon tea! Take in all the local London sights as you tuck into delicious sandwiches, traditional scones and cakes with a choice of refreshing tea or coffee. The attentive staff will have all your needs catered to and point out some of the most noteworthy landmarks along the way – all without spilling a single drop of tea. All aboard!
The Queen's Platinum Jubilee Afternoon Tea for Two at Taj 51
Victoria - West London
Keen to embark on an afternoon fit for a Queen? Celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in style with the Jubilee Afternoon tea for two at Taj 51 in London. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Buckingham Palace, the Taj 51 has welcomed many a royal over the years, making it an all-too-appropriate location to celebrate her royal highnesses' 70th year on the throne. Enjoy a truly elevated afternoon of delicately filled sandwiches, dignified pastries and traditional scones with jam and cream - as well as a variety of thirst-quenching teas. Raise a glass to her majesty and delight in the crowning jewel of the afternoon by sipping on half a bottle of Bollinger Champagne. The experience is sure to leave you feeling, not only refreshed, but regal!
Where can I go for afternoon tea?
The good news is that you can go for afternoon tea just about anywhere. As you’ll see from our handpicked afternoon tea ideas below, you can get your scone fix at glamorous department stores in London, restored Abbey hotels, on a river cruise or even on the high street!
Traditional Afternoon Tea for Two at The Harrods Tea Rooms
Knightsbridge - West London
Enjoy a spot of the London high life with an indulgent afternoon tea experience with bubbles at The Harrods Tea Rooms. The epitome of style and elegance, this iconic building is the perfect setting for a visit to remember as you take a seat in the beautiful Harrods Tea Rooms and lose yourself in delicious treats and the gentle music played by the resident pianist. Harrods specialise in its tea offering, with a range selected by the in-house ‘Tea Tailor’, including Hawaiian Black, Earl Grey and many more. After you’ve swept up every last crumb, why not ramp up the luxury with a little shopping around this luxurious department store?
Sparkling Afternoon Tea for Two at Coombe Abbey
Coventry - West Midlands
Once a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, Coombe Abbey is now an opulent, lovingly restored hotel, nestled amongst 500 acres of gorgeous grounds. Afternoon tea is served at the vibrant Garden Bar, where you will enjoy all the afternoon tea classics from finger sandwiches to fruit scones and lots of cake! To toast your special afternoon of luxury, you will also enjoy a glass of chilled Champagne as you feast your eyes on both the food and the flowers.
York River Cruise with Afternoon Tea for Two
York - North Yorkshire
Ahoy, me hearties! It’s time to take afternoon tea on the water as you tuck into a mouth-watering selection of finger fancies, from savoury sarnies to scones with jam and clotted cream along the River Ouse. Sail along this beautiful Yorkshire river, enjoying the scenery as it floats by, as you listen to the friendly tour guide regale you with tales of local history, lore and landmarks.
Afternoon Tea for Two at Patisserie Valerie
What better way to end a shopping trip with friends in town than with a hot cuppa in hand? Add in some delicious, buttery pastries and freshly baked scones smothered with jam and cream and you’re on to a winner! Settle into the cosy surroundings of your local Patisserie Valerie restaurant for perfectly brewed tea, a good chat and an even better bite to eat. It’s time to treat yourself!
Afternoon Tea for Two at Café Rouge
Injecting a French twist into a British classic, Café Rouge’s afternoon tea offering is truly a thing of beauty. Expect treats bursting with French flair, including chocolate mousse, billionaire torte, croque monsieur and French onion sausage rolls with Gruyère cheese – ooh la la! Served alongside a wide selection of refillable teas, coffee and hot chocolate, this is an afternoon tea with buckets of style and certain je ne sais quoi.