Afternoon tea is a very traditional British past time that many people (particularly people not from the UK) like to partake in while here in London. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon out with friends or family indulging in sandwiches, scones and cake, washed down by lots of lovely teas. As it is a very traditional past time (and quite different to going out for a regular meal) you may have some questions about afternoon tea and the rules you may or may not need to follow such as is there a dress code? Do I need to hold the tea cup in a certain way? Can I have afternoon tea if I’m vegan?
Keep reading to find the answers to all your questions and discover the best spots in London for afternoon tea.
What is afternoon tea? Tell me the history.
In the early nineteenth century, it was common to only have two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Anna the 7th of Bedford always found that around the afternoon time she would get a bit peckish so she would have a pot of tea and a light snack which she would enjoy in her bedroom. The practice got around to other hostesses who also took on the idea and it became respectable enough to be moved to the living areas instead. Before long, it was common practice in the afternoon at many households.
Is there an afternoon tea dress code?
In some restaurants and hotels there is. Please see their own websites for details on this. It is not required at all places but the fancier ones will have some sort of dress code.
Is afternoon tea always the same in every place?
Absolutely not! London has many places for afternoon tea – some very traditional, some very non-traditional. London has lots of quirky afternoon teas inspired by books, inspired by different countries. You can eat them on buses, on boats – you name it, London has it!
What is a ‘cream tea’?
A cream tea is different to afternoon tea. Afternoon tea has sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea, while a cream tea just has the scones and tea. This is a nice and cheaper alternative to afternoon tea. The Wolsely does a great one!
Does London have vegetarian and vegan afternoon tea options?
Absolutely. London is very vegan and vegetarian friendly. Most places have these options on their website alongside the regular afternoon tea menus. Some also do gluten and dairy-free afternoon teas. If you can’t see them anywhere on the website just drop the restaurant a quick email.
Does it matter if I don’t use proper tea etiquette?
Some people worry that they won’t know how to make the tea correctly or hold the teacup properly when having afternoon tea. While there was once a traditional way of doing this, this etiquette isn’t required now. Relax and have fun.
Do I have to behave in a certain way?
As in any restaurant or hotel, manners are a must. However, there are no fixed rules you need to follow
Do you put the Jam or cream first on the scones?
This is a very contentious point here in the UK. As creators of the ‘cream tea’ (an alternative to afternoon tea) , Devon residents put the cream on first, people from Cornwall put the jam on first. Personally, I am always cream first but there is no right or wrong way.
What do I eat first? Sandwiches? Scones?
The traditional way is from the bottom of the stand to the top. Sandwiches first, scones second, cakes third. While this is the traditional way, there is no right or wrong way of eating afternoon tea in London
How long is afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea typically runs for an hour and a half but this is dependant on the place. Please check out the website for the place you are visiting for more specific timings.
What are the best afternoon teas in London?
You’re in luck! I have a list of London’s best afternoon tea’s right here.