Where to have afternoon tea in London

This blog post is written by Genia, who edits the Kaplan International Russian Blog. To read this post in Russian, visit the Russian blog.

In today's blog post, we are going to talk about an integral part of English culture - a traditional tea party in London. We will also introduce some of the very best places in London to enjoy afternoon tea. First of all let's find out what afternoon tea is, and how this tradition started.

English Duchess Anna Russell, born in 1783, was responsible for the introduction of the tradition of the midday snack. In the 19th century, people ate only two meals a day - breakfast and dinner -  around 8 am and 8 pm.

Anna, however, often complained of headaches and lack of energy from the long breaks between eating. It was therefore proposed to satisfy her hunger with tea and snacks. This tradition quickly caught on, and spread among the friends of the Duchess, who visited her in the castle of Belvoir. So was born the tradition of afternoon tea, which is still popular to this day.

Previously, traditional afternoon tea was served from 4 pm to 6 pm. Nowadays, however, you can enjoy a cup of tea and cakes from 12 pm in most places. The standard menu for afternoon tea consists of tea with milk, five kinds of sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, plus cakes. But before we tell you the best place for tea in London, let's give a bit of attention to each component of the menu.


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While the rest of Western Europe may prefer lemon in their tea, the British rarely have it without milk.

This tradition is explained by the fact that the cups of fine china, which were used in the upper circles of society, could not withstand the sudden change in temperature when pouring in hot drinks, and they would burst.

To fix this, people would pour cold milk and then hot tea. This very practical solution became a long-standing tradition.

Fun fact: In England, tea bags are more popular than loose leaf tea, despite the fact that the country is very well known for its love of tea.


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Scones are small muffins or bread, originally created in Scotland. It is believed that the best quality and tasty cream for scones, called clotted cream, is produced in the south-west region of England. Cornwall, the region, is known for fresh air and green pastures. Clotted cream is best described as a cross between butter and thick cream.


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Did you know that the sandwich comes from the English town of the same name, in which it was invented?

Traditionally at afternoon tea, each guest is served five kinds of mini-sandwiches: butter and fresh cucumbers, mustard and ham with cheese and chutney (jam, vegetables and spices), cream cheese and smoked salmon, and egg and mayonnaise. Afternoon tea sandwiches have the crusts cut off, and each piece should not exceed the length of a business card.


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The English tea ceremony consists of some very traditional cakes. They include sponge cake with a layer of fresh whipped cream and jam (Victoria sponge), lemon-poppy seed cake, carrot cake, cake with jam and almonds (Bakewell tart) and white chocolate cake that is dyed bright red (red velvet). In some places, you might also get chocolate mousse, cheesecake, or a variety of macaroons.

Now let's find out where in London serves the most delicious, and unusual, in our opinion, tea.

Orange Pekoe

Cozy tea cafes in central London attract avid fans of quality tea and delicious cakes. Orange Pekoe boasts a wide range of leaf tea, not the packaged version. The collection includes more than 70 types of black and herbal teas. There's even a special tea for pregnant women.

Specially trained staff will tell you the difference between the different types and recommend the best option when you choose a main dish or dessert.

If you want to buy tea as a gift or to replenish your stocks of high quality products, you'll be happy to know they have a tea sommelier, or as it is called here, a tearista (derived from the word barista - a specialist in coffee).

They also make specialty teas for certain holidays: during this Christmas there is a tea with spices and dried fruit. On Mother's Day, you can buy black tea with rose petals. Besides tea, Orange Pekoe is also known for its specialist coffee. It sells coffee beans from 10 countries, and having a cup there will make you sigh with pleasure.

The traditional tea ceremony in Orange Pekoe is not too stuffy, and feels warm and friendly. They also offer gluten-free cakes and sandwiches.

Sanderson Hotel

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The Sanderson Hotel, near Oxford Street, has a creative approach to tea time, with a tea party inspired by "Alice in Wonderland", or Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea .

If you want to step back into childhood and feel like you're a part of the incredible adventures of Alice, The Sanderson Hotel is the place to go.  It serves what is probably the most creative version of the traditional afternoon tea.

Let's start with the fact that your menu is hidden inside of antique books, and tea utensils are painted with a chess king and queen. On an elegant stand you will not find the usual cakes and scones - instead, you will be offered miniature quiches, scones with olives and cheese, as well as fluffy sandwiches, each of which will be made of different kinds of homemade bread: spinach, tomato, lemon and rye - and stuffed delicacies.

And when it's time for the sweets ....

Hiding in the pharmacy bottle "Drink me" you'll find three layers of lemon-coconut-mango juice. The traditional cake with strawberry jam can be found as a clock with a dial, and the traditional English dessert of strawberry and cream is dressed up as toadstools. You can also have a green tea mousse.

If you're still in the mood to be wowed, then hurry to the table in the center where you can find several species of exotic jellies.

The Athenaeum Hotel

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Reserve a table for tea at The Athenaeum hotel, where you will find yourself in a very atmospheric salon. Located in the heart of historic London, this hotel is imbued with the spirit of aristocracy and luxury.

Attentive and very discreet waiters will make sure that your cup is always full of fresh, hot tea, your porcelain platter has enough sandwiches, and that you get the most out of this traditional ceremony.

One unusual offer on the hotel's menu is a "male" version of afternoon tea. While you might remember that a traditional tea includes scones with jam and some sweet cakes, the chef at The Athenaeum takes special care of those who prefer savory snacks. By choosing the Gentlemen's Offer, will be able to enjoy a hot pie with beef and beer, a meat terrine with caramelized onions, and puffed pretzels with cheese sauce. Instead of the familiar sandwiches, scones will be served with bacon and melted cheese.

Oh, and for dessert, you might find fruitcake with whiskey caramel pudding or chocolate truffles with rum, which will be served with a glass of scotch.

The Ritz

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An afternoon at The Ritz is an event that you will remember for a lifetime. Afternoon tea is held in a luxurious room in Palm Court. This unforgettably beautiful room has mirrors in gilt frames, lush bouquets and exquisite statues. To enjoy a cup of tea at the Ritz on the weekends, you will have to book a table six months in advance, but the wait is worth it!

Attentive, elegant waiters will enchant you with excellent service and a smile. Scones and cakes are prepared in the hotel's bakery . Strawberry jam is also the handiwork of the chef. Be prepared for the fact that you will often be asked if you want them to "freshen up" your plates of sandwiches and scones, but do not forget to leave room for a sweet!

In short, before going to the Ritz for afternoon tea, you should not have breakfast, and you certainly won't need dinner!

One important detail: To visit the hotel you will have to comply with a strict dress code. Women are expected to wear dresses and skirts below the knee, and men are only allowed in if they are wearing suits and ties.

If you're looking for more things to do in London, check out our post on best ice cream in London.

Remember that you can get a local's perspective on London by taking English courses with Kaplan! Take the day to study and spend the evening exploring the city. What could be better!

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