How (And Where) To Enjoy Afternoon Teas This Winter
When the thermometer drops, afternoon tea is a warming way to bring together family and friends. It’s also a great excuse to dust off your best china and sample a range of luxury loose-leaf teas.
As the colder months draw us indoors, it’s time to embrace that most English of traditions: afternoon tea. After all, what’s not to love about platters of delicious sweet and savoury treats, matched with good company in a cosy spot, with a pot of the finest loose-leaf tea to hand?
Whether you’re looking for an elegant entertaining option or just an excuse to gather a group of friends and family, an afternoon tea party offers timeless appeal for all generations.
Create your own spread of delectable bites, or make life easy and book a table at one of the many five-star spots for high teas, offered by hotels, cafes and restaurants around the world (scroll down to see some of the best in London).
Whatever your jam (with scones and clotted cream, of course!), we have the inspiration you need to make your afternoon gathering fit the occasion to a (ahem) tee.
The history of afternoon tea
Ever wondered how the ritual of afternoon tea became so embedded in British culture? These days, afternoon tea is a global tradition that’s especially popular in upmarket hotels. But the history of the classic English afternoon tea dates back to the 1840s, and the appetites of Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford.A friend and lady-in-waiting of Queen Victoria, the duchess was known for satiating her hunger between lunch and dinner with platters of bread and butter, tea and cake. After she started inviting guests to share the elegant morsels in her home, it became a social occasion – one marked by a chic dress code and refined conversation. The trend took off across the English aristocracy, and a social tradition was born, along with a multitude of tea rooms and tea gardens.
Modern tea parties
Today, there’s more to the classic English ritual than simply tea and cake, finger sandwiches and scones. Having exploded in popularity over the past decade, afternoon tea comes in many forms, from tapas-style spreads to all-savoury feasts featuring mini burgers and tiny chicken wings.Teas cater to all ages and demographics. Like the Children’s Eloise Tea at New York’s glamorous The Plaza hotel – peanut butter and jelly sandwich washed down with a Shirley Temple, anyone? Or the haute couture-inspired edible creations at London’s The Berkeley, where the fashion-forward can book in for Prêt-à-Portea: The Couture Cakewalk.
Afternoon tea etiquette
As everyone knows, the classic afternoon tea is served on an elegant, three-tier cake stand – visually enchanting and artfully arranged. The traditional teatime treats are a mix of finger sandwiches, scones and sweet bites.
So, does it matter what order you eat your afternoon tea? The answer is emphatically yes! As you’ll see below, there’s a definite order to your tea to be enjoyed in, from the bottom up.
On a classic afternoon tea cake stand, you will find:
Where you’ll start, with a selection of savouries and finger sandwiches – crusts removed and carefully cut into perfect rectangles (we like this tip-packed guide to making them properly).
Scones, traditionally served with clotted cream and jam. We’re not going to weigh in on whether you top them with jam first (as they do in Cornwall) or cream (Devon style). They’re delicious either way!
Reserved for pastries, cakes and sweets: last but not least!
For more tips, see our inside track on enjoying and creating the perfect afternoon tea with Tea Makers partner (and fellow loose-leaf fans) London Marriott Hotel County Hall.
10 best afternoon tea pairings for winter
Now you have your menu items in order, read on for The Tea Makers of London’s top recommendations for the best luxury loose-leaf teas to match them with.
This classic black tea is a staple of afternoon tea menus. It pairs especially well with sandwiches filled with robust fillings such as egg mayonnaise or ham and mustard. Our Ceylon English Breakfast is smooth, rich in caramel notes and a lovely brisk option to serve at the start.
While on the savoury tier, we’re shouting out to our Authentic Masala Chai. Malty and with warming spice, it’s delicious if there are more heavy-duty savouries being served. Think mini samosas or, say, sausage rolls.
Assam with a little extra
A luxury Assam loose-leaf tea is a staple on afternoon tea menus, but The Tea Makers of London’s Assam Chocolate Spice blend takes it to the next level. Made with cocoa, barley malt, spice and pieces of ginger, it’s a lovely tea when you’re looking for some cold-weather comfort.
As you get closer to Christmas, it’s time to up the seasonal atmosphere. Look no further than our Christmas Tea. An aromatic black tea redolent with orange, cinnamon and cloves, it’s bound to add joy to any festive gathering.
Known as the Champagne of teas, a good Darjeeling complements both the sweet and savoury elements of an afternoon tea. If you’re only ordering one tea to take you right the way through the menu, make it our floral, muscatel-flavoured Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling Second Flush.
Blended with bergamot oil and blue cornflowers, our Supreme Earl Grey is another non-negotiable inclusion. Fresh and citrusy, this version will pair well with spicy savouries, scones or fruity sweet treats such as strawberry or lemon tarts.
For a beautifully subtle, lower caffeine option well suited to lighter bites of both the sweet and savoury variety, our Rare Ceylon Silver Tips is a luxurious treat. A light cup, it has a stunning Champagne colour and hints of pear, honey and pine.
A semi-oxidised tea that sits somewhere between green and black teas, oolong is another one that pairs well with both sweet and savoury dishes. For an iconic version with a rich and creamy yet floral mouthfeel, you can’t go past The Tea Makers of London’s award-winning Tie Guan Yin, aka Iron Goddess of Mercy.
Doing double duty as a green tea that’s also a bouquet in a cup, our Artisan Flowering Tea Bulbs magically unfurl in the pot. Light and fragrant with jasmine and rose, they make a beautiful and dramatic finale to accompany the sweet bites on the top tier of your cake stand.
Caffeine-free, uplifting and refreshing, our premium-quality Peppermint Tea Leaves are the perfect end to an afternoon of indulgence!
5 top spots in London for afternoon tea
As home of the original English afternoon tea, London abounds in amazing options for a cosy or formal gathering for tea, sandwiches, cake and scones. Here are a few of The Tea Makers of London’s favourite spots in the UK capital (it’s our home, too!).
For effortless elegance
Opened in 1899, in a quiet Westminster courtyard, St Ermin’s Hotel provides an afternoon tea as effortlessly elegant as it is relaxed and welcoming. A favourite of Winston Churchill’s – and ours too – it offers a range of menus catering to different diets as well as our very own award-winning The Tea Makers of London teas.
For a flavour of London
For playing tourist or treating holiday guests, we love The Dilly, set in the heart of the capital. Its London Afternoon Tea offers various Champagne, vegetarian and children’s options. Apart from the hand-picked selection of The Tea Makers of London loose-leaf teas, a highlight is the playful sweets menu, with cakes crafted into London icons such as Big Ben, red phone boxes and black cabs!
For feeling bookish
Not many London venues allow you to sightsee while nibbling on one of the finest afternoon teas in a historic, book-lined room. But at The Library at County Hall, located in a majestic building on the South Bank, you can do both, soaking up the views of Big Ben and Westiminster across the Thames, as well as a range of The Tea Makers of London’s finest brews.
For blending with festive shopping
Fortnum & Mason (established in 1707) needs no introduction. A favourite with generations of British royalty, the Piccadilly store offers a variety of afternoon teas in its regally named Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. When you’re done sipping from its famous blue-green china, there are five levels of retail, packed with gourmet produce, to explore.
For the ultimate indulgenceNot for nothing does The Ritz claim its Afternoon Tea Experience is “one of the most iconic experiences in the world”. If you’re feeling extravagant, book yourself in for a luxurious afternoon tea and immerse yourself in the outstanding menu, twinkling chandeliers and live music from their resident pianist.
Looking for more afternoon tea inspiration? Make a style statement with our range of ceramic and glass teaware including our supremely elegant Classic Glass Teapot, made from borosilicate glass and perfect for entertaining.