AFTERNOON TEA 101
KEVIN UNG heads to London to learn how and where to tea like the Brits do
A RELATIVELY BRIEF HISTORY OF AFTERNOON TEA
There are few things more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. For more than
150 years, the English have been partaking in this unique late-afternoon meal meant to curb one’s appetite before dinner. Anna Maria Russell, a friend of Queen Victoria’s, is credited with inventing the tradition due to the hunger pangs she frequently experienced.
Now a British institution, the popularity of afternoon tea has spread around the world and is still particularly popular in former British colonies including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. While it’s true that other European countries enjoyed similar meals before the British, English afternoon tea has emerged to define the Western tea-drinking tradition in modern times.
AFTERNOON TEA OR HIGH TEA?
One of the most confusing aspects of afternoon tea is the name itself. Many mistakenly call the meal “high tea”, which is a different meal that’s similar to dinner. In places such as Hong Kong and Australia, “high tea” can refer to English afternoon tea, and postnoon snack breaks are called “afternoon teas”. As confusing as this is, it’s best to stick to the original English usage and use the latter.
WHERE TO GET THE BEST AFTERNOON TEA IN LONDON Claridge’s: the quintessential afternoon tea
One of the most iconic hotels in London, Claridge’s has played host to royalty, heads of state, celebrities, fashion icons and the who’s who of the world. The hotel has held an important place in London’s history since it opened its doors in 1856 and, after more than 150 years, its continued longevity and relevancy is no surprise. Since the hotel’s early days, it has been famed for its world-class service.
As you would expect from a hotel with such a storied past, Claridge’s also has a famed afternoon tea. Situated in a 1930s art decoinspired dining room designed by Thierry Despont, Claridge’s makes no attempt to hide the fact that you’re dining in luxury.
From customised silver serving trays beside the table to knowledgeable tea sommeliers, everything is prepared with professionalism, care and exquisite attention to detail.
The menu features a traditional selection of delicate finger sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries. Chef Martyn Nail and his team of chefs change the pastry menu every week according to what’s in season, ensuring that guests will only be dining on the very best.
All this adds up to a pampered, traditional and lush experience that stays true to Britain’s time-honoured tea tradition.
Jean- Georges at The Connaught: the art of modern fusion
The Connaught Hotel is the perfect blend of old-meets-new, and you can see this in Jean-Georges’ afternoon tea. For a more contemporary experience, the restaurant offers a wonderfully designed dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows, stained glass, accents and stunning circular light fixtures. The openness of the dining area also allows you to relax and enjoy people-watching in the heart of Mayfair.
The menu combines traditional English afternoon tea with Jean-Georges’ unique Asian-fusion twists. For example, instead of a normal cucumber sandwich, you’ll taste a surprising hint of mint and lime, and instead of ham and cheese, there’s the addition of miso mustard. For a more present-day take on tea with the comfort of staples such as scones and finger sandwiches, Jean-Georges is the perfect place to relax and spend your afternoon.
Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley: where fashion meets tea
The Berkeley is the most modern hotel among our recommendations, with beautiful interiors and rooms created by renowned designers. The hotel’s appreciation for great design lends itself well to its Prêt-à-Portea, which is a forward-looking afternoon tea that takes its inspiration from the latest fashion shows.
With an alternative twist on traditional English tea, the items on the menu are inspired by the latest collections from the season’s catwalks. Biscuits, cakes, mousses and a variety of pastries are carefully crafted based on the hottest creations from the world’s most iconic fashion designers. While the tea is quite unconventional, with no scones and an Asian-inspired starter plate, it’s definitely a must for fashionistas who want to try one of the more creative takes on tea in London.
Clockwise from top left: Jean Georges’ afternoon tea set; The Berkeley’s Prêt-à-Portea is inspired by the world of fashion; Claridge’s iconic 1930s art deco-inspired dining room