One can’t open a newspaper without reading about the antioxidant benefits of a cup of brew - be it Twinings or Imperial Green. In the land of the umbrella, the Queen and the original afternoon tea, however, such fleeting facts are incidental. As the world’s second largest per capita tea consumer, Britain’s tea tradition goes far beyond a simple beverage and a bit of wellbeing.
After arriving in the United Kingdom via the East during the 16th Century, it took the leafy liquid only a few short years to replace ale as the national nip. (The competition continues). Still, traditional English high and low tea time did not evolve until around 300 years later when, in 1840, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford Anne Russell was tired of suffering eight hours between breakfast and dinner, lunch being non-existent back then.
After discovering the pleasure of indulging in sweets and snacks mid-day, the Duchess began to invite friends to join her in a nibble and gossip. Lauded as the era’s epitome of social cool, soon afternoon tea developed into a full blown afternoon event including fireworks and fashion shows.
The tradition mellowed following World War II , but by this time it had transcended from the leisurely set to the masses. The working class, not privy to mid-day breaks, developed “high tea”: a full meal eaten after a hard day that was named for the “high” dining room table where it was taken. The upper crust “low tea”, meanwhile, consisted of small bites such as classic scones with clotted cream and those crustless cucumber sandwiches often enjoyed at a “low” salon coffee table.
Now “high tea” is the practice of sitting down to cakes, scones and tea in the afternoon. Whether your aim is a full sit-down session or a simple snack, London is the ideal place to experience a true British afternoon tea in the style of its original patron.
Here is a list of our favourite places:
Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL Tel. +44 (0)20 7235 6000
33 Albemarle Street, W1, Tel. +44 (0)20 7518 4155
Park Lane, W1K 1QA, Tel. +44 (0)20 7629 8888
FORTNUM AND MASON
St. James’s Restaurant 181 Piccadilly, W1A, Tel. +44 (0)20 7734 8040
222 Marylebone Road, NW1 6JQ, Tel. +44 (0)20 7631 8000,
Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA Tel. +44 (0)20 7259 5599
214-220 Regent Street, W1B 5AH , Tel. +44 (0)20 7734 1234
THE RITZ-CARLTON LONDON
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR Tel. +44 (0)20 7493 8181,
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