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AFTERNOON TEA IN LONDON – HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THIS WORLD FAMOUS EXPERIENCE!

A trip to London, for natives of the British Isles and visitors alike, simply has to include that quintessentially English custom of taking afternoon tea in a London hotel.

The popularity of Afternoon Tea is enjoying a soaring renaissance these days. But what’s all the fuss about and what exactly is a proper English Afternoon Tea experience?

AFTERNOON TEA - THE HISTORY

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Well, the tradition of Afternoon Tea is a relatively new one when you consider that historically tea has been made and consumed in China since the third century BC. Tea was made popular much later in England during the reign of Charles II and his wife Catherine of Braganza (1660s). It was an exotic and pricey commodity enjoyed by society’s uber rich. But the ritual of Afternoon Tea as we know it today began in 1840 thanks to Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford. She was a close friend and lady of the bedchamber (no pun on her name intended!) to Queen Victoria.

The Duchess served evening dinner fashionably late at 8 o’clock. Because of the long gap between meals, she complained of a “sinking feeling” at around 4 o’clock. To relieve this lapse in vitality, she ordered tea and sandwiches (that clever snack invented by the 4th Earl of Sandwich a century earlier) and sweet pastries to be served in her private boudoir.

She liked it so much that she started inviting friends over. And this quickly grew into a formal, high society event, for which ladies would don long, elegant tea gowns, hats and gloves and visit each other’s drawing rooms. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Duchess formalized the ritual of Afternoon Tea, which had been served since the 1600s, and added the element of dainty finger foods.

Just as certain wines match certain dishes, the same can be said of tea… take a look at what foods pair best with which tea.

WHAT'S HIGH TEA?

Many visitors are often confused about the difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea. They are very different! High tea (also known as meat tea or tea time in Ireland) usually refers to the evening meal or dinner of the working class, typically eaten between 5 pm and 7 pm, before serving dinner “upstairs”. Think of the staff dinners of Downton Abbey. Afternoon Tea (also sometimes called low tea confusingly!) was an upper class luxury.

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DEVELOPMENTS

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From the private drawing rooms of the aristocracy, Afternoon Tea made its way into chic London hotels. We know from the novels of Henry James, Nancy Mitford and others that taking Afternoon Tea at a fashionable (and expensive) London hotel such as the Ritz or Claridges, became vogue amongst the high society of the twentieth century.

We learn of acceptable and unacceptable etiquette through these novels and you can find some of the dos and don’ts here!

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea".

- Portrait Of A Lady, by Henry James

TODAY

Afternoon tea is served all over the English countryside in quaint tearooms. But for a truly sophisticated, decadent and downright pukka English Afternoon Tea, you simply have to try one of London’s glitzy hotels. Seated in opulent surroundings, you can partake of the delicacies so enjoyed by the upper classes of Victorian England. You’ll be greeted with a mouth-watering array of finger sandwiches (crusts cut off of course, just like the Queen!) such as cucumber, smoked salmon & cream cheese, ham & mustard and coronation chicken. Always followed by warmed scones, preserves and Devonshire clotted cream and finally, delicious cakes and pastries all beautifully presented and served with the finest loose leaf tea. Such superior quality tea is always served in elegant fine bone china tea cups to enhance the flavours – the designs and styles vary according to different establishments. Check out our teaware and recipe ideas for your own tea party.

These days, an Afternoon Tea date can be enjoyed by groups of friends, it makes for a fun family day out or as an intimate tea for two experience.

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DRESS UP OR DRESS DOWN?

In the comfort of your own home, long tea gowns and gloves are no longer required! Today we aren’t such sticklers when it comes to sartorial matters as the Victorians. But some very smart London hotels do have a dress code (like blazers for gents or no jeans). It really doesn’t matter how you dress, but perhaps when indulging in such an historically aristocratic extravagance, we think it adds a certain flair to the occasion to go along dressed in your best!

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LONDON’S BEST AFTERNOON TEAS – TWININGS TOP FIVE

The stunning Palm Court with its original art deco features offers a glimpse into the 1920’s. Choose between Palm Court High Tea, Bird Cage Afternoon Tea and Vegetarian Afternoon Tea. The venue is located at the Park Lane Hotel on Picadilly in the heart of Mayfair.

Call +44 (0)20 7499 6321 or email palmcourt.parklane@sheraton.com to make a reservation.  

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THE WALDORF TRIBUTE BLEND

A combination of malty, peak 2nd flush Assam tea with a hint of the evocative, smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, together creating a heady aroma of bonfires and honey.

Created to complement their sandwiches, scones and pastries, this tea is locally blended at the original Twinings tea shop at 216 Strand, exclusively for the Waldorf Hilton!

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The Waldorf is our stand out choice! The Waldorf Hilton has an illustrious history and rich heritage dating back to its opening in 1908. Set in the heart of London’s theatre land, close to Covent Garden, the hotel has attracted a string of stars from all over the world. Gertrude Lawrence, Sir Thomas Beecham, Elizabeth Taylor, Pavarotti, Pierce Brosnan and Dame Judi Dench are just a handful of show business icons that have stayed at the hotel.

Their menu is second to none and is served with Twinings finest quality loose teas. They provide immaculate service and fascinating explanations of each and every tea. A wonderful pre-theatre luxury - we highly recommend!

For you literary buffs! The Montague is located in the upmarket area of Bloomsbury; made famous by such literary icons as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and the rest of the Bloomsbury Set. They do a great Twinings Afternoon Tea including an Afternoon Tea cocktail using Lady Grey!

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Right next to Buckingham Palace, their sumptuous Tudor themed tea lounge overlooks the Royal Mews. Rubens serve an eclectic array of Twinings loose teas, including the premium quality Darjeeling so enjoyed by the Duchess of Bedford and her aristocratic pals.

The menu features dishes inspired by periods of British Royal history and incorporates foods associated with Monarchs from the houses of Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, Saxe Coburg & Gotha, Hanover and Windsor. During the summer months a wonderful day out in London is to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, followed by visiting the State Rooms and gardens and giving yourself a well earned Afternoon Tea at Rubens just around the corner.  

Located in the heart of Mayfair, overlooking Grosvenor Square, the Millennium Hotel serves the traditional English Afternoon Tea with Twinings loose tea leaves, handpicked from some of the world’s best tea gardens, in a gorgeously opulent setting!

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TERNOON TEA INSPIRATION