When it comes to staying away from home, there are a few things we like to treat ourselves to: cake in the morning, alcohol in the early afternoon, and a few local delicacies throughout the day. While Sunday lunches in the pub and bed and breakfast London stays are relatively common place, there is one iconic British tradition that has become an attraction in itself, and can be found targeted at varying price points and audiences all over the city.
The humble afternoon tea.
How did it start?
Afternoon tea was first introduced in 1840, when a British Duchess found herself enjoying sandwiches and cake alongside her cup of the tea, to satisfy her appetite at around 4pm every day. The Duchess began to invite friends to join her, and pretty soon the concept began to spread among other upper-class women and social groups – with women typically dressing in their finest gowns before sitting down to enjoy plates of bitesize sandwiches, slices of cake and cups of tea. And so the afternoon tea London is now so famous for, was born.
What are the staples of a good afternoon tea?
It starts with a simple cup of tea, and ends with great company. Afternoon tea is a primarily social occasion, whereby groups of friends get together to combine classic British sandwiches with loose leaf tea (teabags are frowned upon in high society circles!), scones and jam, and masses of cakes.
Typically on the menu are four of the British sandwich favourites, including tuna and mayonnaise, chicken and bacon, egg and cress, and ham and cheese – though vegan options are of course available, especially in venues around London such as the Park Grand Hotel which caters for all allergies and food intolerances.
Once the sandwiches are gone, it’s on to cake – layers of light sponge, sandwiches together with jam and buttercream and all manner of other fillings. Scones with clotted cream and jam are another British tradition that is generally included in the modern afternoon tea, though many of the UK’s top scone-and-cream combinations have been claimed by eateries in the West country.
Where can you find the best afternoon tea in London?
From boutique cafes and eateries, to high end hotels and restaurants, afternoon tea is a staple on many a menu in London. Some of our favourites include those that have added a unique take to the British classic, including exotic flavoured cakes and sandwiches, afternoon teas that are built around a distinct and whimsical theme, and those that are served in the most unique locations – for example on a moving bus, and on canal boats.
When it comes to British traditions, London is full of them, and luckily afternoon tea is one of those traditions that was simply built to last. Some call it “high tea”, some call it “tea and cake”. Some serve loose leaf tea in proper teapots’; others serve theirs with a side of champagne. However you choose to enjoy yours, make sure you toast to Britain, and to the Duchess who made afternoon tea a “thing”.