The quintessentially English tradition of Afternoon Tea goes back to the early 1800s and is usually credited to Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, who was a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria.
The aristocracy of the time would eat huge breakfasts, light luncheons and late evening meals. As a result, during the afternoon, the Duchess would get a bit peckish. One afternoon, she had the idea of instructing her servants to serve a tray of tea, bread and butter and cakes in her boudoir. There was no going back!
This soon became a regular occurrence and the Duchess would invite her high society lady friends to join her to what soon became a highlight of the day and the custom of “afternoon tea” was established.
At first, the practice was limited to the upper classes, but, it eventually became so popular that teashops and tea-rooms began opening for the enjoyment of the general public.
Today, wherever you happen to be in the world, you can usually find somewhere offering English Afternoon Tea between 3-5 pm. Here is a small selection of very special places for tea across the U.K. If you live in the U.K., why not treat yourself this week? If not, I hope that you will sample this fantastic tradition on your next trip to this side of the pond.
If money is no object and you want a real treat – splash out at The Ritz Hotel, in London’s Piccadilly.
As soon as you walk through the door, past the uniformed concierge, it feels like you have entered another world. The sumptuous surroundings of the Palm Court with old favourites played softly on the piano recall the glitz and glamour of the times gone by.
Chances are you are a first timer but, don’t worry, you won’t feel out of your depth. The majority of tea sippers are ordinary folk enjoying a very special treat to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions.
The air is full of restrained excitement as the performance begins. First comes a platter of savoury sandwiches, bite size morsels of smoked salmon, egg and cress, cold meats and, of course, cucumber. Then there is a choice of homemade scones, jam and clotted cream, followed by the grand finale of exquisite, mouth-watering patisserie. Throughout this leisurely spectacle the tea of your choice flows constantly supplemented, if you wish, by champagne.
Prices start at £50 (about $70) per person making this the perfect choice for those BIG celebrations; they guarantee you will never forget “Tea at the Ritz.”
Founded by Fredrick Belmont in 1919, there are now six Bettys throughout Yorkshire. The inspiration for Bettys Café Tearoom in York came from the fabulous Art Deco style on board the Queen Mary In fact, even as you sit in Bettys today surrounded by huge curved windows, elegant wood paneling and ornate mirrors, you can still imagine yourself aboard a luxury ocean liner.
Set in the heart of the city, this famous teashop has to be included in every visitor’s itinerary. It is very popular and as a result you may have to queue at peak times but the wait is worth it.
Food served includes mouthwatering cakes and pastries, including Yorkshire Curd Tarts and the famous “Fat Rascals,” which are a type of large scone filled to bursting with almonds, fruit peel, and cherries and are served toasted with lashings of butter.
There is also a wide choice of rare and exotic teas from around the world. The tearoom still has its own bakery on site and all the cakes, pastries and meals are freshly prepared on the premises. As an added bonus – if you’re there between 6 and 9pm you’ll be able to enjoy the café pianist playing.
The National Trust is famous for saving, restoring and opening to the public, a wide range of historical properties. Almost as popular as the amazing buildings and heritage sites are the Tea Rooms that they have created.
Each one is individually designed to suit the environment where it is situated. Often converted stable blocks of an old mansion, or the disused dairy of a manor house, the list is endless. But wherever you are you will find freshly baked cakes and scones and a refreshing cuppa, all reasonably priced.
Editor’s Note: If you live outside of the U.K., here are a few popular locations to enjoy afternoon tea or high tea experience:
Tea & Sympathy in New York City, New York
Sarabeth’s in New York City, New York
The Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona
The Langham in Boston, Massachusetts
The Grand Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada
Wedgewood Hotel in Vancouver, Canada
The Tea Room QVB in Sydney, Australia
Vaucluse House Tearooms in Sydney, Australia
Have you had afternoon tea at any of the places mentioned here? Where do you like to enjoy a nice cup of tea in your country? Please join the conversation.
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