Is there anything more quintessentially British than afternoon tea? The century-old tradition taking place between lunch and dinner has been enjoying a revival over the past few years and has been adopted across the world as a food-filled pastime shared with friends or family. But where did the tradition come from? What makes it so spectacularly British? In celebration of Afternoon Tea Week running from 8-14 August 2016 by AfternoonTea.co.uk, The LuxPad takes a look at the origins of the event and most unique afternoon tea experiences that can be found at the moment in London.
The idea of afternoon tea in the UK is said to have surfaced during the early 19th century when it was common to have just two meals a day, breakfast then dinner around 8pm in the evening. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is hailed for bringing the pastime to the upper classes when she complained of a ‘sinking feeling’ during the afternoons and began to enjoy a pot of tea and light snacks privately in her boudoir. Soon the Duchess invited friends to join her in her Woburn Abbey rooms in the afternoon and she carried the tradition on when she returned to London. Sending invites out to her attendees for ‘tea and a walking in the fields’, the occasion quickly became a social event and it wasn’t long before other hostesses took up the idea and afternoon tea became so acceptable that it was moved to the drawing room.
It wasn’t just the well-to-do upper classes that took part in afternoon tea rituals at this time, with the middle and lower classes having the more substantial high tea at around 5-6pm in place of a late dinner. The terminology around afternoon tea, be it ‘low’ or ‘high’ stems from the height of the table on which the tea was originally served. Low tea was served to the upper classes on low tables at around 4pm and is the closest relative to the afternoon teas we know today, whereas high tea was served at the dinner table. Although now only enjoyed on special occasions rather than as an everyday treat, the classic British afternoon tea is still tremendously popular today which has led to many hotels and restaurants creating their own unique spin on the historic pastime. Here are AfternoonTea.co.uk’s most unusual experiences to satisfy your afternoon tea cravings during Afternoon Tea Week.
Presented as a book where hidden within, guests can read then eat their way through the edible menu, the Roald Dahl Afternoon Tea experience celebrates the timeless author’s 100th birthday. Created by Executive Chef Dale Osborne and Head Chef Pip Sandrey, the tea steps into a world of pure imagination with everything served in Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator. A nostalgic romp through many of the author’s greatest works, it includes Mr Twit’s very own bird pie, the terrifying ‘formula 86’ from The Witches hidden inside chocolate mice and the RolyPoly Bird choux bun all against the breathtaking views from the Shard.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Science Museum in Knightsbridge is the Ampersand Hotel which offers the perfect afternoon tea experience for science lovers. Including the usual afternoon tea offerings from finger sandwiches to a selection of plain and white chocolate scones, this experience bursts to life in the pastries section where you will find raspberry cake planets, pistachio macaroons with a cherry sauce pipette and a hazelnut, walnut and chocolate cake topped with a mango mousse volcano. A delight for the inquisitive child within all of us.
Combining another classic British pastime with afternoon tea is the St James’s Hotel who have added board gaming flair to their experience. From childhood frivolities such as Snakes & Ladders and dominos to intellectual pursuits like Scrabble and Chess, the top board games are represented here in culinary form and guests can even partake in a quick play of their favorite board game during their afternoon tea to make the experience even more thrilling.
Another afternoon tea based on an eternal literary masterpiece is the Jungle Book Afternoon Tea at the Kona restaurant within St James’ Court, a Taj Hotel. With delicacies inspired by Mowgli’s adventures in Rudyard Kipling’s classic story, this afternoon tea contains Baloo’s Himalayan Honey Macaroons, Shere Khan’s Masala Chai Éclair and The Bandar Log Spiced Banoffie with saffron cream which takes its name from the monkey tribe that lures the young man-cub away from his protectors. With each piece boasting an Indian twist inspired by the author’s love of the country, the launch of the afternoon tea experience coincides with the hotel’s release of The Jungle Book limited edition hardback which is the second offering in Taj’s ‘English Classics, Reinvented’ series and marks their partnership with the Born Free Foundation, the international wildlife foundation committed to the conservation of big cats in the wild.
For more information on Afternoon Tea Week, to see exclusive offers and to book a host of afternoon tea experiences across the country, visit the AfternoonTea.co.uk website to get your taste buds tingling.