Why Afternoon Tea Must be a Part of Your London Experience


When travelling to a new country and embracing amazing new sights and cultures, one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself is through your new destination’s food. Embarking on a culinary adventure can give you a really authentic and interesting insight into new places, and can help you learn a lot about its history, culture and traditions.

If you’re heading to London soon and are looking forward to trying some of our top national dishes that have become synonymous with comfort food the world over, you may also want to look into something a little more refined. After all, fish and chips, or a fabulous and full English breakfast are great, but perhaps not very sophisticated!

If you want a true taste of the UK in general, but especially London, you absolutely must add a traditional afternoon tea London to your list of things to do. Here’s a guide as to why.

A brief history of afternoon tea

It’s always a nice idea to have a little delve into history, so here’s an insight into how afternoon tea became such a key British institution.

Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford in the 1830s, is widely credited with first making ‘Afternoon Tea’ into an official social occasion. Finding herself somewhat understandably peckish in the gap between her lunch and dinner, she began welcoming her friends to delight in tea and ‘a light refreshment’ in her private rooms at Woburn Abbey. Upon returning to London, she continued this new tradition, and the ‘Afternoon Tea’ became an increasingly fashionable ritual among the highest in society.

During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was typically served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock in the afternoon.

What’s on the afternoon tea menu?

There are generally no rules about what should or shouldn’t be on a traditional afternoon tea menu, though of course some people will get defensive about their favourite components! It usually consists of sandwiches and a selection of sweet treats. A typical menu might read:

  • A selection of finger sandwiches
  • Scones with cream and preserves
  • A mix of cakes, biscuits and pastries
  • Your choice from a range of teas

Different afternoon tea options available

With afternoon tea becoming so popular in the UK today, it’s no surprise that you can enjoy one in a wide range of locations, from the more traditional tea rooms, to lavish hotels, such as the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate, to bars and restaurants.

Also, as there are so many different dietary requirements in the UK, you’re almost guaranteed to find one that caters to your specific needs, such as whether you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or eat Halal or Kosher food, or if you have intolerances to things such as gluten or nuts.

As the UK in general is so super diverse, with that, comes culinary delights from all over the globe. People from all corners of the world have bought their dishes and ingredients to us, putting their own, unique spin on our dishes. You can now even try alternative afternoon teas, such as Indian afternoon tea which is exciting!

Tips to enjoy afternoon tea

  • Book your table to avoid disappointment – lots of the top tea rooms get booked up super quickly, particularly during peak seasons, and you’ll want to make sure you secure your spot at the likes of the Restaurant & Bar in Lancaster Gate when you book your hotel, too
  • Consider the dress code – lots of people use going for afternoon tea as an excuse to get all dressed up, but lots of places are still happy to keep it fairly casual. When booking, it’s best to check what is and what isn’t allowed, when it comes to the dress code. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to go a little overdressed rather than underdressed
  • Which goes first, the cream of the jam?! – A long-standing divisive topic in the UK! In Devonshire, it is traditional to take your scones with cream and then jam, in Cornwall it is the opposite. Etiquette dictates you should spread your jam before indulging with a dollop of cream on top!
  • Do not dunk – Dunking a biscuit or cake into your tea is pretty much customary in the comfort of many Brits’ homes, but this is considered impolite in public, and especially in high class establishments
  • Let your tea brew – Do not drink your tea immediately after it has been served. This is because it will need at least three minutes to brew, and the longer you brew the tea the higher the level of antioxidants called flavonoids, which research has shown have many health benefits to the drinker
  • Which goes first, the tea or the milk?! – Another conundrum that has plagued the country for centuries. Originally, milk was always put in first. Bone china was expensive and often had flaws in the glaze, and people wouldn’t want to crack their precious cups with hot tea, so they had to put the milk in first to protect it. Wealthy tea-drinkers had high-quality chinaware, so they could put the milk in afterwards (or perhaps not even at all). So in time this all became a mark of social status
  • When to go – The traditional time for afternoon tea falls somewhere between 4 pm and 6 pm. Currently there’s a bit more flexibility – you are welcome to have it earlier if you wish. (It might not be technically correct, but afternoon tea is a considerable lunch alternative!).
  • To stir or not to stir – Strictly, (and a little surprisingly) your tea shouldn’t be “stirred” in a circular motion: instead rotate the spoon from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock, as though you’re folding the tea over. Do this 2–3 times, then place the teaspoon on the right-hand side of your cup, on the saucer, not on the table (and by the handle).