An Innate English Custom: A Guide to The Afternoon Tea

traditional afternoon tea

Many of the millions of visitors to London annually are tempted by the indulgence that’s the afternoon tea, so just what is all the fuss about? If you’re not in the know, you really do need to give our guide a read…

What is afternoon tea?

A refreshment ritual intimately associated with the beverage that’s tea, the afternoon tea came to prominence across Britain (but especially England) following its creation by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840 – at the very beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. It started out then as something of a mini-meal to sate the hunger between lunch and dinner, the latter of which was usually served around 8pm. It quickly became popular among upper class women looking to climb the social ladder or maintain their wrung on it.

And, by the time Queen Victoria gave the ritual her seal of approval, its popularity spiked, developing into what was then known as a ‘tea reception’. Such receptions were attended by as many 200 separate invitees, whom would be granted entrance to a host’s home between the hours of 4pm and 7pm, arriving and leaving within this timeframe as they pleased.

afternoon tea Hyde Park

Today, however, the afternoon tea is, for the most part, an indulgence enjoyed by those ‘living it up’ often at a major restaurant or high-quality hotel; perhaps to mark a special occasion or while on a short-break at a venue such as the Grand Royale London Hyde Park hotel (where you can enjoy either a traditional afternoon tea for two or one accompanied with glasses of Prosecco.

What are you served for a traditional afternoon tea?

Traditionally, a modern day afternoon tea is effectively a full meal, but one that comprises a combination of finger sandwiches (cucumber as a filling always has to be an option), scones served with clotted cream and jam preserves, as well as sweet pastries and cakes and, naturally, only the finest tea; it ought to have been grown in either India or Ceylon and be served from silver tea pots into delicate china tea cups. Note that the inclusion of scones in the ritual only took place in the 20th Century.

traditional afternoon tea hyde park

How long can you expect afternoon tea to last?

Should you be tempted to indulge in an afternoon tea Hyde Park (or to partake in the ritual anywhere else for that matter), then you might expect the experience to last at least one-and-a-half hours. However, that may be said to be the minimum duration because the diners themselves are usually granted the right to control the pacing of tea and food servings; at a well regarded establishment your wish ought to be the serving staff’s command.

In what order are you served courses for afternoon tea?

As afternoon tea is all about indulging in an experience once only possible for the highest echelons of British society, it’s – as noted – all about tradition; albeit tradition that has evolved and no doubt will continue to do so (many versions, in addition to the ‘traditional’ incarnation outlined above, are now available at most establishments). And, to that end, etiquette is important. To wit, the tea itself ought to be sipped and never glugged down, while the food should be eaten with care and elegance. Moreover, the order in which you’re served the food courses ought to be as follows: sandwiches first; followed the sweets (scones, pastries and cakes). Conversely, the pouring and drinking of tea takes place throughout, as you may have gathered.