How to Create a Traditional British Afternoon Tea

March 20, 2017

What is an Afternoon Tea?

A typical British afternoon tea is enjoyed between lunch and dinner and comprises of 3 key factors: finger sandwiches, miniature cakes and scones (perfectly accompanied by jam and cream). Afternoon tea means different things to different people. For some, it’s seen as an opportunity to relax and enjoy time with friends over a cuppa and a delicious treat, for others, it’s regarded as a time to get spruced up and indulge in a luxurious afternoon in one of the UK’s best cafes and hotels. Whatever the reason, afternoon tea is always a winner.

In Britain, our love for afternoon tea knows no bounds. As if we needed an excuse to put out a spread of goodies, we have a whole week dedicated to the celebration of this quintessentially British tradition. If you’d like to join in the festivities, Afternoon Tea Week begins on the 14th August!

But what’s the history behind afternoon tea, where are the best places to go to experience it and how can you recreate it at home? Our blog explains all.

The History behind British Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea was first created in the 1800’s by the Duchess of Bedford, who, feeling the pangs of hunger between lunch and dinner (which was traditionally served as late as 8pm!), asked for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake to satisfy her cravings. This behaviour soon became a habit, so much so, that the Duchess began inviting friends to join her. Thus, the British afternoon tea tradition was born.

For more information regarding the history of afternoon tea in Britain, check out the Historic UK website.

The Best Places to experience Afternoon Tea in Britain

Afternoon tea has evolved over the past two centuries, with many chefs using this British custom as an outlet for their creativity. However, regardless of whether you prefer the traditional British afternoon tea experience, or would like to opt for something a little different, the UK, home of the afternoon tea, offers some of the best afternoon tea experiences in the world.

For a traditional British afternoon tea:

Traditional afternoon tea at The Ritz London

Let me set the scene: you enter the breath-taking Palm Court, adorned with gleaming mirrors and spectacular chandeliers before sitting down to tuck into a carefully handpicked selection of indulgent British treats. A timeless classic, British afternoon tea at The Ritz London is an experience of a lifetime.

Afternoon tea at Betty’s

Having spent just shy of a century perfecting their recipes, people flock to this Yorkshire tea room from all over the world to enjoy this quintessentially British afternoon tea. This legendary afternoon tea includes: a pot of Tea Room Blend tea, a delicious sandwich selection (Scottish smoked salmon and cream cheese, roast Yorkshire ham, roast free-range chicken breast and egg mayonnaise & cress), a sultana scone with strawberry preserve and Yorkshire clotted cream and a selection of hand-crafted miniature cakes.

For something a little different:

Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel

Take a journey down the rabbit hole and delight your senses at the Sanderson Hotel’s Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea party in London. This unusual take on the traditional British afternoon tea combines charm and an eclectic mix of flavours (including the delicious white crab eclairs!) to create a truly unforgettable experience.

Afternoon tea at One Aldwych

Be transported into Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Factory with the One Aldwych’s delightfully fun take on afternoon tea. The perfect destination for chocolate lovers, this afternoon tea menu offers everything from golden chocolate eggs to decadent chocolate caramel milk.

How to Create Your Own British Afternoon Tea

Many people choose to host a British afternoon tea party at their own home to impress their friends with their culinary skills and save a few pennies (dining out in hotels and cafes can have a knock-on effect on the bank balance!).

When you’re planning a British afternoon tea party, it’s a good idea to check you’ve got all of the essentials: teapot, tea cups, crockery, a tiered cake stand, napkins, tea bags and of course, the food.

The Tea:

When it comes to tea bags, you really are spoilt for choice. Our advice? Stock up on as many different types as you can: Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Peppermint and Camomile are firm British favourites. And if you’re really looking to impress, world famous café, Betty’s, has a wonderful range of delicious tea bags, perfect for any afternoon tea party.

The Sandwiches:

Traditional British afternoon teas have a choice of the following sandwiches: egg and cress, salmon and cream cheese, cucumber and coronation chicken. If none of these take your fancy, get adventurous: cheese, salami, tuna, beef, tomato and ham also make great sandwich fillings!

The Scones:

Nothing tastes better than Mary Berry’s scones. Queen of British baking, Mary Berry’s scone recipe is a shore fire winner.

For those without a sweet tooth, there are a variety of delectable savoury scone recipes you could try.

Going that Extra Mile:

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there are a few added extras which would really make your British afternoon tea party stand out:

  • Add a sweet and personalised touch to your afternoon party by making individual place name cookies.
  • Get crafty and decorate the room with some homemade bunting! For advice on how to make bunting, check out Ideal Home’s article.
  • Create an atmosphere with some great music. If you don’t have a selection of your favourite tracks to hand, browse through 8 Tracks’ afternoon tea playlists.

For more advice on all things British, including how you can study in the UK, check out the English Study Breaks blog.