11 June 2014

The golden rules of Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea, aka nectar of the gods, is a rather hotly debated in my social circles. We spend a lot of time gathered, pinkies in the air, solving the worlds problems over a leisurely cup of tea.
It is believed that credit for the custom goes to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. The usual habit of serving dinner between 8 and 9 pm left the Duchess hungry and with a 'sinking feeling' by late afternoon. To stave off the hunger, she would order tea, bread and butter and cakes to be served in her room. Later on she would invite friends to join her at her home and the light tea was such a success the habit caught on.

19 Gorgeous Covent Garden Afternoon Tea Blates

 The Duchess continued the custom on returning to London and soon the 'At Home' tea evolved which quickly spread throughout England. Announcements about tea were sent to relatives and friends stating at what hour the tea would be served. Sometimes entertainment was provided but more often it was simply conversation and a little idle gossip over tea and cakes. If 'At Home' notices were received the guest was expected to attend, unless of course, regrets were sent. There was at least one person holding an at home each day and social ties were quickly established with women seeing each other so regularly.

But what makes a fantastic tea? London seemed to explode a year or so ago with afternoon teas; Gluten free, chocolate, men's, fashion. You name it, and there seems to be a tea that can provide it.
In this day and age afternoon tea has become a ladylike touch of luxury, an excuse for taking a few hours out of busy lives to reconnect with friends and family over a few servings of delicious delicacies. Yes, it's a pricey luxury, but if you think about it, it's around the same price as an evening in the pub without the exhausting after effects.
Fantastic afternoon teas for me include all of the below, without exception.
  • Wonderful company. You know who you are.
  • Luxurious, interesting and restful surroundings that you can hear yourselves speak in. The basics include a good sized table, comfy seating (don't laugh, I've had terrible seating) and enough room for everything to nestle without jostling.
  • Cool crisp bubbly is a lovely bonus, but tea is an absolute must (hence the name, afternoon TEA, right?)
  • Free-flowing tea is a golden rule never to be broken, and the offer of water never goes amiss.
  • Pretty individual teapots. We all want to feel special.
  • All delicacies must be presented in a tea stand. The medium of stand doesn't matter, as long as it suits your context - a bone china stand is a little overkill in a homely house tea, whereas a cardboard stand is a little passé in a 5 star hotel. For that matter, loose plates are definite no-nos.
  • Attentive, friendly service that doesn't detract from the beautiful service. Personally I enjoy a rather more hands-off approach, with regular eye contact just in case it's needed.
  • 3 courses have to be served - savouries/sandwiches, (warm) scones & sweet delicacies. Fresh, beautifully flavoured and interesting. If we wanted 3 tiny fingers of plain ham sandwiches, we would have gone to the supermarket and bought one for £1. We want to taste the breadth of the head chef's patisserie skills, let them loose, let them have fun.
  • Enough - be generous. A pet peeve of mine is having 5 wee cakes come out for two people to share, or 4 teeny-tiny finger sandwiches. This is an afternoon of luxury, and we're paying for that. Please don't make me miss out or have to divvy up with my afternoon tea date. It's just cruel.
  • Be consistent.
  • Don't penalise people with dietary requirements. If you're kind enough to offer a tea with dietary specialities, make sure your staff understand what they are serving. The amount of times I've had to explain that Macarons are gluten free to hotels serving gluten free teas is ridiculous. Also, if you have a themed tea, consider how many items on that tea can be gluten free.
  • No fruit jellies. Except as palate cleansers. We're not here for healthy people!
And last, but not least as a good friend of mine says;
  • "It is not afternoon tea if it doesn't have light, mouthwatering scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam".
How about you?


  1. Amen! Definitely nothing healthy allowed!! I love how many Afternoon Tea's you've attended lately!! Fine effort! xx

  2. I'd absolutely second and third be generous! I'm sorry 4 tiny cakes aren't going to cut it. Actually the same goes for the sandwiches. x

  3. I love that story about the early beginnings of afternoon tea!

    Lexie's 12th birthday is this weekend and for her party we're taking her and 5 friends for afternoon tea in West Hampstead. She's so excited because she's seen all of my pretty pictures from our teas and wanted to go to one herself!

  4. Rachael Kowald11 June 2014 at 13:35

    where would you recommend for a gluten free afternoon tea?

  5. I reckon the Duchess of Bedford must have been a blogger! We're just obsessed with afternoon tea :)

    Lots of love,


    SilverSpoon London

  6. Kelly Michelle11 June 2014 at 21:55

    I live in Bedford, maybe that's why I'm overindulging in Afternoon Tea - I need to move counties! I'm so looking forward to Claridges and they better be bloody amazing after waiting for what seems like an eternity to get a booking - honestly its like buses - you wait over a year to get a booking and then you get two bookings two days apart! Loved the post Emma xx

  7. Those look amazing! I've attended afternoon tea on a Princess Cruises ship, as well as a local place. I would love to attend somewhere that served a vegan afternoon tea with little desserts and sandwiches! And vegan scones! I'm sure it must exist somewhere...now just to locate it!

  8. I reckon so! We need to dig out her diaries and check! Afternoon tea is just one of the BEST meals of the day!

  9. I love that you're getting her hooked young, fantastic work! I can't wait to hear about it.

  10. I think it's a luxury meal, and you should be able to enjoy it properly. None of this fruit jelly business - it can be so much more exciting.

  11. Oh, that's the reason then ;D It's not just because you're an addict!
    I'm SO excited for Claridges!!

  12. That's really cool, how was the cruise ship tea? I bet there are vegan teas now, I'd be interested in a vegan scone...

  13. Rachael Kowald14 June 2014 at 16:51

    oo sorry, in London :-)

  14. I actually found one recently in Toronto! We're hoping to go sometime soon. I'll blog about it when we do! And the cruise ship had lovely afternoon tea :)

  15. I wish I had the chance to go on as many afternoon teas as you guys, London is the place for it! I liked the history lesson :)

  16. A place where I can easily hear everyone is my dream which most likely means I am getting old but seriously I hate shouting!

  17. Agree with all those. Whats your favourite place so far?

  18. I agree with them all and your friend on the strawberry jam and clotted cream. I really don't like the cardboard cake stands or it being served on plates. I want the bone china stand every time because it's more luxurious, right?


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