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When it comes to British food traditions, is there anything more perfectly English than the institution of afternoon tea?
Possibly fish and chips or a roast dinner but they are not nearly as exciting or filled with ritual as a proper English afternoon tea with all the trimmings and ceremony.
Whether you are visiting London for the first time or are a frequent visitor, afternoon tea must be on your London itinerary. Even if, like me, you don’t really like drinking tea yourself (more on that later).
The English afternoon tea tradition
The tradition of afternoon tea began in the 19th century. Originally a light meal eaten between 3.30pm and 5.00pm, tea was taken by the upper classes although it quickly became popular with the upper middle classes and evolved into the extravagance we know it today.
Today, tea is often an elaborate meal of sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries offered by London’s finest hotels and restaurants.
It is served on a tiered cake stand with beautifully arranged sandwiches, small cakes and other treats and petits fours such as macarons and chocolates.
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
Of course afternoon tea is always served with a choice of many different varieties of tea served in a teapot. Not a teabag in sight!
For those of you who, like me, really don’t enjoy the taste of traditional and aromatic black teas, there will usually be peppermint tea or other herbal varieties available. Or you could just stick to champagne!
Where to take afternoon tea in London
You can try more humble versions of tea that focus on scones and tea at cafes and teahouses across the country. But in my mind, there is nothing more exciting than getting dressed up to enjoy the ceremony of tea in London.
You have my permission to indulge and enjoy this perfectly English institution but be prepared to skip dinner – it’s quite a feast.
Here are some favourites and recommendations
Tea with Big Ben
If afternoon tea is one of Britain’s famous dining institutions, surely it must be matched with one of world’s most iconic buildings. Did you know that you can take afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament?
One of my all time favourite London experiences, the tea rooms are on the banks of the Thames under the shade of the Elizabeth Tower so you can hear Big Ben’s bells tolling as you spread some jam on your scone.
Afterwards, take a tour of Parliament and learn about this most famous building and its historic past – more information
A royal afternoon tea
After a visit to Kensington Palace or exploring one of the nearby London gardens, I highly recommend stopping at the Orangery at Kensington Palace for afternoon tea. It is a beautiful venue in summer looking out over the gardens and extremely cosy during those cold London winters.
One of the best value teas in London, you can’t beat the regal atmosphere of the Orangery, complete with elegant high ceilings, ornate crockery and little royal touches throughout. The relaxed and professional service means it is an enjoyable day out even with kids in tow.
The Orangery at Kensington Palace serves tea between 12:00 and 18:00 daily – more information.
Traditional luxury champagne afternoon tea
Since it opened its doors in 1931 the Dorchester has been serving one of the poshest afternoon teas in London. In the luxurious surroundings of The Promenade lobby, elegant sandwiches and delicate cakes are served while your tea is taken from the finest china.
Even the scones are refined at the Dorchester. Their bite sized version is made to a 50 year old recipe and are quite delicious. Apart from the scones, this experience is for tea lovers with blends sourced from the Scotland’s Dalreoch estate.
The Dorchester has several sittings for tea daily from 13:30pm to 17:30pm daily – more information
Afternoon tea with cocktails
After a long day of sightseeing or shopping in London, head to the Quarter Bar at the London Bridge Hotel and relax with one of their signature cocktails and a delicious afternoon tea.
Traditional finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats are served in an informal environment. Grab a booth with your girlfriends and linger over your tea before embarking on your next London adventure.
Tea is served between 14:30pm and 17:00pm Monday to Friday and from 13:00pm to 17:00pm on weekends – more information
Family afternoon tea
It might surprise you that the grand surrounds of St Ermin’s hotel in St James’s was the perfect introduction to high tea for our young children.
Tea is served in the large Tea Lounge and library or outside on the terrace if the weather is fine and the staff are friendly and used to accommodating little people.
St Ermin’s offers a special Buzzy Bees afternoon tea for children that includes child friendly favourites like ham sandwiches and strawberry jelly.
After enjoying tea, take the family to see the hotel’s famous beehives where over 350,000 bees make the honey enjoyed in elements of your afternoon tea.
You can visit St Ermin’s for afternoon tea between 12:00 and 18:00pm – more information
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea
If you are a fan of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or simply love chocolate you will love the attention to detail at The Chesterfield’s themed afternoon tea.
With nods to the books throughout the different tea courses, it’s an exciting experience and there are sure to be many oohs and ahs as the food and drinks arrive at your table. There is even a chocolate scented tea to try making this possibly the best chocolate afternoon tea in London.
The staff are brilliant with children and birthdays too. We left our tea with a “Wonka” chocolate bar and even a golden ticket!
Be quick though, you can only book the tea until 20th November 2017 – more information
Take tea at the one of the spiritual homes of London tea
Fortnum and Mason is a British institution when it comes to tea. Famous royal providores based on Piccadilly, they stock over 100 tea blends from around the world. Fortnum’s even created the Royal Blend for Edward VII in 1902.
Tea is served in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon where you are treated to classic cucumber, smoked salmon and coronation chicken sandwiches followed by scones, tea cakes and patisserie.
After your meal, pop downstairs and pick up your favourite blend of tea from their magnificent shop.
At Fortnum’s tea is served 11:30am to 19:00pm from Monday to Saturday and 11:30am to 18:00pm on Sunday – more information
Where will you be taking tea in London? And do you have a favourite?
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