The elaborate ritual of enjoying finger sandwiches, cakes, and fine leaf tea in the middle of the afternoon was first introduced by the aristocracy who traditionally ate their last meal late in the evening and therefore felt peckish around 4 pm. It has since become a popular and delicious tourism activity to spend an afternoon in London.
High tea in comparison was the evening meal taken by the lower classes, it consisted of tea (of course) vegetables, bread, cheese and sometimes meat. Many English people still refer to their evening meal as “tea” because of this interesting history. However, overseas, the two terms have become synonymous with one another and afternoon tea will often be advertised as high tea, perhaps because the establishments think that it sounds fancier!
Whatever you call it a traditional afternoon or high tea should consist of freshly brewed tea, small dainty sandwiches, cakes, treats and sweets and perhaps scones with jam and clotted cream. It is a meal that should be leisurely taken with friends and never rushed. These are the best spots in London to enjoy the most indulgent and unique afternoon teas in London.
The Best Afternoon Tea in London: the rundown
For a really unique and special celebration, enjoy an afternoon tea inspired by Roald Dahl's “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” characters. At One Aldwych hotel, you’ll be treated to a sweet-filled teatime which even includes a chocolate tea made with Peruvian cocoa nibs! The presentation, including a miniature milkshake bottle with a striped straw, and a cheesecake filled chocolate egg dusted with gold, will also delight. See if you can guess the flavor of your personal sized homemade cotton candy floss and be sure to bring your illustrated menu home-it’s a gift! This is such a fun and quirky way to enjoy this traditional English ritual. One Aldwych is in the heart of trendy Covent Garden where you’ll also find this two bedroom Up On Cloud Nine which features a light-filled sitting room thanks to the beautiful and expansive glass ceiling.
Afternoon tea is meant to be an indulgent experience likely consumed infrequently but if you would prefer to make the meal a little healthier or perhaps for dietary or health reasons you need some lighter fare, consider booking your high tea at Brown’s Hotel steps away from Tiffany and Co and just a 12 minute walk to Buckingham Palace. Their “Tea-Tox Healthy Afternoon Tea” features fruity iced teas, salads, a beetroot crepe, lots of fresh fruit and some sugar and gluten free baked treats.
The closest underground tube station to this Regent Street spot is Piccadilly Circus where you can also find a selection of upscale The Bartlett Suite, a contemporary 3-bedroom suite which includes a charming oasis from city life in the quaint garden.
For sheer opulence and to really echo the aristocratic beginnings of the afternoon tea service head to the Hotel Cafe Royal. You’ll find the magnificent Oscar Wilde lounge, named after one of the most famous guests, adorned with golden details and rich red seating. The hotel has partnered with French perfumer and artist Diptyque to inject fresh cut flowers and spring aromas into the traditional menu. Start the taste exploration with an amuse bouche of goats cheese and orange blossom muffin, before enjoying a royal favourite of coronation chicken with golden raisins. The service also includes the option to sample an exclusive blend named “Oscar” after the famous poet and playwright made with Lapsang Souchong leaves.
Afternoon Tea & A Cheeky Cocktail
For a slightly more grown-up afternoon, tea just add cocktails! Lyaness, is the award-winning cocktail bar inside the Mondrian London hotel which offers views across the Thames. This Wyld afternoon tea includes course by course botanically inspired cocktails such as the Bankside Swizzle which blends Bacardi, pineapple cordial, and citrus and lemon balm or the Fluff and Fold Royale Lime, made with fresh basil and cacao liqueur, all topped up with bubbly prosecco and served with a lemon marshmallow! For your culinary delights, you’ll be served a goats cheese rarebit on 7-grain toast, a selection of sandwiches and shortbreads, and of course plenty of cakes and tarts. Stay close by in the artsy South Bank district by reserving this one bedroom mid-century designed flat with views of the London Eye right from the doorstep, selected and reviewed for you by the expert inspectors at Plum Guides.
Afternoon Tea at Claridges
Located in Mayfair close to Bond Street underground tube station, Claridges is close to the amazing QUEEN OF MAYFAIR: a four-bedroom luxury apartment that comes complete with a courtyard for people watching!
This iconic London establishment opened in 1856, serves a variety of afternoon teas daily including a sitting designed just for children complete with a colouring page and dainty fairy cakes. Adults can choose to add champagne to their tea service to make it an even more indulgent treat and will also enjoy a selection of sandwiches with luxurious fillings like Clarence Court duck egg and smoked salmon, all served on their elegant art deco inspired bone china.
Afternoon or high tea is a delicious meal, an indulgent treat, and a slice of authentic British culture and history all served up on a tiered stand. You can enjoy it at a huge selection of upscale hotels, lounges, and restaurants as well as smaller teahouses and even department stores. Whether you choose to add chocolate accents, a glass or two of champagne or keep it healthy with a fruit version, be sure to make one of your London meals a celebration of tea and all its splendid accompaniments.