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A Guide to Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea Guide

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.

Whilst traditionally afternoon tea was reserved for the social elites, high tea was the creation of the working classes – a family meal rather than a luxurious, shared social dining experience. In the place of cakes, pastries and scones, were much more substantial savoury snacks, such as meat, pies, fish and eggs with bread.

Interestingly, afternoon tea was originally known as ‘low tea’, as it was often enjoyed at a low table in the drawing room. High tea, however, got its name from being taken at a high table or counter after the working day was done in the early evening.

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.

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!

Hungry for more? Discover our full range of delicious afternoon teas, from traditional offerings to Champagne brunches, luxury options and even afternoon tea gifts for you to enjoy at home!