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Quintessentially British: The History of Afternoon Tea

12 February 2016

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to afternoon tea." - Henry James

Afternoon Tea At Grange Strathmore Hotel

Despite originating in China, few things are known for being more quintessentially British than tea, and indeed, few things are more indulgent than this country’s time-honoured tradition of Afternoon Tea. So, with our special Overnight Stay with Afternoon Tea package starting from just £66 for two, it’s time to sit back, sip your tea and take a bite out of your dainty cucumber sandwich, as we explain some of the history behind one of our favourite (and tastiest) British customs. 

 

Where did the concept of Afternoon Tea originate?

Afternoon Tea At Grange Blooms Hotel

Although tea has long been the beverage of choice in England, the far grander occasion of Afternoon Tea is most commonly attributed to the Victorians, namely Anna Russell; the 7th Duchess of Bedford and a close friend of Queen Victoria.

In the early 1840s, it had become fashionable to eat later on in the evening at around 8pm, leaving a rather daunting gap between daily meals, which usually only consisted of breakfast and dinner. Said to be complaining of “having that sinking feeling” during this time, the Duchess took to enjoying a light snack and pot of tea in her bedroom to appease her hunger. Eventually, her friends were invited to join her in the drawing room, and this sociable occasion began spreading through upper class groups around the country, commonly accompanied by a country walk.

 

How did Afternoon Tea become so embedded in English culture?

"Bring me a cup of tea and 'The Times'.” - Queen Victoria’s first command after being crowned

Afternoon Tea At Grange Wellington Hotel

As Afternoon Tea grew into much more of an occasion than simply a light bite to tide you over until dinner, Queen Victoria decided to create her own ‘tea receptions’, welcoming up to 200 guests who were able to come and go as they pleased throughout the afternoon. During the late 19th century, tea rooms began opening their doors, and soon it wasn’t just the upper class who could relish such culinary delights.

 

 

What’s on the menu when it comes to Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon Tea

Tea, whilst obviously an integral part - be it Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Lapsan Souchong or whatever else you fancy - is only a small part of this whole grand affair. Scones with clotted cream and jam; pretty little cakes and pastries; and delicately-cut finger sandwiches (no crusts, of course) all feature - although scones, despite being a staple component today, were actually only introduced in the early 20th century. 

Afternoon Tea Treats

At Grange Hotels, our Afternoon Tea features all of these classic treats, plus a few more contemporary flourishes and twists, and we also offer an extra touch of sparkle with our Champagne Afternoon Tea – a popular choice for special occasions.

 

 

What’s the difference between Afternoon Tea, High Tea and Cream Tea?

Afternoon Tea At Grange Holborn Hotel

Traditionally, Afternoon Tea (or ‘low’ tea) was served at around 4pm, featuring the classic menu of finger sandwiches and sweet treats as mentioned above. High Tea, which these days is commonly confused with Afternoon Tea, was actually a more substantial meal which the middle and lower classes would eat in place of dinner at around 6pm, served at the ‘high’ dinner table. Cream Tea on the other hand, another English favourite, usually consists of simply a pot of tea accompanied by scones, clotted cream and jam. 

We like to serve up the full works in our hotels, and offer a traditional Afternoon Tea which can be enjoyed between 14:30 and 17:00. So it’s up to you to decide which meal it counts as!

 

Do Brits really have Afternoon Tea every day?

Afternoon Tea At Grange Tower Bridge Hotel

Sadly, no. These days, the tradition is reserved for more indulgent occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, although we would happily find another excuse if you have one...

Owing to the busy London lifestyle - remember, this is a social affair best enjoyed leisurely - most people couldn’t keep up with doing this every week, let alone every day. In most cases, a cup of tea and a biscuit will have to suffice!

 

 

How do I enjoy the full Afternoon Tea experience properly in London?

Afternoon Tea At Grange Tower Bridge Hotel - Tower Bar & Grill

From Bloomsbury to Kensington, St. Paul’s to Westminster; our central London hotels offer a variety of settings in which to enjoy these tasty treats in style, whether that be the regal air of our Grange Strathmore Hotel, the charming ambience of our Grange White Hall Hotel, or the luxurious surroundings of our flagship Grange St. Paul’s Hotel.

Wherever you choose, one thing’s for sure - this truly indulgent spread is something not to be missed on your travels to London. We recommend allowing enough time to enjoy it properly, and perhaps teaming your experience with a stroll in one of London’s many parks and gardens afterwards - Hyde Park was a particular favourite amidst Victorian socialites.

Plus, with our exclusive package, you can enjoy the full gastronomical experience together with a luxurious overnight stay. After all, this is supposed to be a leisurely and sociable occasion – so much more than just a cup of tea.