What could be more classically British than enjoying a sumptuous afternoon tea? Made popular amongst the English wealthy classes in the 1840s, afternoon tea is traditionally a light meal eaten between 4.00 and 6.00pm to fill the gap between lunch and dinner.
The Duchess Anna Maria of Bedford is widely credited as its creator and would often partake of afternoon tea with her friends at Woburn Abbey. The Woburn Hotel, part of The Bedford Estates, offers the ‘Duchess Anna Maria afternoon tea’ consisting of delicious freshly baked homemade scones with clotted cream and fruit preserve, a selection of finger sandwiches, pastries and cakes, and a pot of piping hot tea or coffee. This is currently served daily from 3.00 to 5.00pm and costs £16.95 per person. If you want to feel like the Duchess herself, why not enjoy afternoon tea in the Duchess’ Tea Room within the grounds of Woburn Abbey? It is clear that the Duchess had a significant impact on British History with afternoon tea proving so popular that by the end of the nineteenth century it was observed by all classes alike.
“The table was laid … there were the best things with a fat pink rose on the side of each cup; hearts of lettuce, thin bread and butter, and the crisp little cakes that had been baked in readiness that morning.”
Jane Pettigrew – A Social History of Tea (National Trust 2001)
Cream Tea , Afternoon Tea or High Tea?
Today, afternoon tea is more popular than ever although the various names used to describe afternoon tea can sometimes be confusing. Afternoon tea is traditionally sandwiches, scones and a selection of cakes served with tea. Overseas visitors might refer to British afternoon tea as ‘high tea,’ which was commonly used to describe savoury foods and a larger meal historically taken by the lower classes. A ‘cream tea’ is usually just scones with cream and preserves served with tea. A ‘royal tea’ includes a glass of champagne with afternoon tea for those special occasions!
Afternoon Tea Etiquette
Most venues have a ‘smart casual’ dress code that allows men to wear trousers and smart jeans, a collared shirt and clean/un-scuffed shoes. For ladies, it’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up. Tea purists insist that loose or leaf tea should be used to craft the perfect cup. Six minutes of brewing time is recommended to avoid damaging the flavour of the tea. When stirring your tea it is suggested that you place your spoon in a 6 o’clock position in the cup and fold the tea towards the 12 o’clock position whilst making sure not to ‘clink’ the spoon against the cup. The spoon must be placed on the saucer to the side of the cup after use. There is debate on whether cream or jam should be placed first upon one’s scone. The Devon tradition is cream first whilst the Cornish tradition is to put jam then cream – choices, choices!
Afternoon Tea Experiences at Classic British Hotels
If you are now hankering after an afternoon tea why not treat yourself on your next stay with us? Afternoon tea is available to book online at most Classic British Hotels – simply add it to your stay during the booking process or speak to one of our Reservations team. Some of our favourites include:
5-star Afternoon Tea at Wivenhoe House Hotel
Afternoon tea aficionados rejoice. Three of London’s top hotels – Brown’s Hotel, The Ritz London and The Dorchester – have agreed to share the secrets of what makes their afternoon teas so special with Wivenhoe House, home of the Edge Hotel School. From pastry tips, through to service and presentation, everything is being scrutinised. Wivenhoe House’s new afternoon tea, based on Brown’s, was launched at the beginning of June and will be served for three months with The Dorchester and The Ritz London following on in rotation.
Celebration Tea at Marygreen Manor Hotel
Marygreen Manor Hotel’s celebration tea is a unique take on your typical afternoon tea: Swap finger sandwiches for a selection of luxury savoury canapés; scones for a delicious variety of mini desserts; and finally take away the cakes and pastries to replace them with a yummy assortment of petit fours, all served with a celebration cocktail.
Chocolate Afternoon Tea with a sensational view at Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa
A chocoholic’s paradise: Relish a luxury hot chocolate accompanied by chocolate macaroons, a chocolate swiss roll with rich chocolate ganaché, white chocolate-dipped shortbread and a chocolate orange choux bun, all whilst soaking up stunning panoramic views of majestic mountains, forests and the beautiful Lake Vyrnwy.
Mini Tea Picnic at Smiths at Gretna Green Hotel
Take an English tradition. Add a Scottish twist. The table is set with a super-soft Scottish picnic rug, traditional wicker picnic hamper and vintage-style crockery. All you need to do is tuck into the homemade banana bread, carrot cake, scones, macaroons, lemon tarts, white chocolate fudge, marshmallows and delectable finger sandwiches.
Afternoon Tea at Blenheim Palace when you stay at our Cotswolds hotels