English Tea: Afternoon Tea in London

Without a doubt, the British love a cup of tea, which is often fondly referred to as a ‘cuppa’ or a ‘brew’.

Since tea was introduced to the United Kingdom during the 1600s, we have become one of the world’s largest tea consumers and tea drinking has become a distinguishable feature of British society and culture.

What is an English Afternoon tea?

Many people who visit London enjoy having afternoon tea, the concept of this ritual way of having tea was introduced to the British in the 1840s. Usually comprising of tea, served with daintily cut sandwiches along with scones, pastries and small cakes, it is a great way of curtailing hunger until it is the evening meal time.

In fact, the concept of Afternoon tea was invented by Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford who wanted to combat the ‘sinking feeling’ she felt around 4 pm as dinner was not to be served until 8 pm.

Afternoon tea is also known as 'low tea' as it was traditionally served on a low table such as a coffee table, but this is often confused with 'high tea', which is a term used historically for the hearty meal comprised of heavy food which was eaten around 5 pm at a high dinner table by working-class families, once they got home from a busy day at work.

There are many, many venues in London that serves afternoon tea and it’s certainly an indulgence that is not to be missed out on during a visit to the British capital. It’s also a great way of celebrating special occasions such as birthdays, baby showers and meetings with friends and family.

Top 5 Places to Have Afternoon Tea in London

1. Try something new at the Ting Shangri-La in the Shard which offers reinvented British afternoon tea classics with a fantastic Asian-inspired menu.

2. If you like sushi, why not visit Kurobuta at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge for a unique take on afternoon tea?

3. Fancy tea on the go? Take an Afternoon Tea tour aboard a vintage double-decker bus at B Bakery.

4. Feel the exotic vibe and take a Moroccan afternoon tea at Momo in Mayfair and indulge in syrupy maghrébine pastries, date scones and Moroccan mint tea.

5. Nothing says Afternoon tea quite like the Ritz, an all-time classic favourite, this is a fabulous experience for anyone who loves the formal dress code, piano music and chandeliers, not to mention the dessert trolley!

Why is tea so popular in the UK?

Tea became a popular hot drink in the United Kingdom as it was considered an upper-class drink from the European continent. It was promoted by King Charles II and his Portuguese wife and after the British East India Company dominated the tea industry within England, it became more popular than coffee.

Whichever way you get your caffeine kick, it's a great idea to learn great tips from some of the best coffee and tea experts.

To this day, tea drinking is often seen as somewhat patriotic and an icon of British culture. Over here it is primarily enjoyed with milk and sugar after being brewed in a teapot or a mug of boiled water. However, there are many different ways of drinking tea, which depend on either the type of tea being made or the tea-drinking culture of whoever is making it.

Tea has also become increasingly common as a cold drink too with the increasing variety of iced teas available. In recent years, bubble tea bars are ‘popping’ up all over London and the UK and have proven to be extremely popular.

What is the most popular type of tea in England?

The top five most popular types of tea drank in England are:

1. Breakfast Tea – This is the most popular type of tea drank by the British. A hot cup of tea is the perfect pick-me-up of a morning and a quintessential part of an English breakfast. This traditional blend is usually made with black teas from Ceylon, Assam and Kenya.

2. Earl Grey Tea – This is a fragrant tea that has been infused with bergamot oil, giving it an aroma that is highly distinguishable from other teas.

3. Darjeeling Tea – Light in colour with a kind of floral fragrance, this tea is renowned for its refreshing properties.

4. Green Tea – With its invigorating characteristics, green tea is famous for its health benefits and its light, uplifting flavour, which is often infused with many different fruit flavours too.

5. Oolong Tea – This tea is well known for its strong flavours which are due to the tea-making process which involves the tea leaves becoming withered in the sun and then steeped.

Where is English tea from?

Tea originated from Southwest China and tea drinking dates back as far as the third millennium BC however it was not until the 1600s that people in England started drinking it.

Tea as Souvenirs

English Afternoon Tea

Tea can also be purchased as a souvenir which usually comes in collectable tins resembling the most iconic sights and landmarks of famous cities and places. Souvenir tea from London features icons such as the Double Decker bus, Big Ben and vibrant red post boxes and telephone boxes, and they all make excellent gifts for tourists or people who just love London.

In fact, tea is such an important part of British culture, it goes without saying that tea is one of the utmost popular gift items that people choose to take back home from a trip to London.

Did you know?

It’s estimated that the British drink around 165 million cups of tea daily or 60.2 billion per year.

80% of Britons drink tea.

In the UK, 98% of people like their tea with milk; but only 30% have it with sugar.

The Difference between High Tea and Low Tea

Along with the concept of ‘High Tea,’ there was also the concept of ‘Low Tea’ both of which date back to the Victorian Era. They both acquired their names because low tea was served while people were sitting on lounge chairs and sofas around something similar to a coffee table, while high tea was served at a dinner table. As mentioned earlier, low tea was a pre-dinner time treat enjoyed by wealthy families, and high tea was really the name for the filling meal that working families came home to.

Famous Tea Quotes

English Tea

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. - Henry James, 1881.

A pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. - Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 1862

Where there's tea, there's hope. - Arthur W. Pinero

Tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country. - George Orwell

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. - Eleanor Roosevelt