Hotels: United Kingdom: The Best Afternoon Teas in London


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The Best Afternoon Teas in London
© 2001-2008 Elegant-Lifestyle Ltd. All rights reserved.

Afternoon Tea - a great British TraditionRitz Afternoon Tea (c) The Ritz
Having afternoon tea has been a fashionable social event in London for over 150 years. Tea is undoubtedly the British national drink and having afternoon tea is an important part of English life. Therefore, Elegant-Lifestyle went out to find the best places for having afternoon tea in London. Having tea in the glamorous and luxurious surroundings of a grand hotel is an indulgence for the extravagant traveller and the Londoner alike. The London Grand Hotel Tea is something for connoisseurs. Since the late 1880s grand hotels have been offering afternoon tea to their guests in style. Having afternoon tea at the Ritz or the Savoy became the hallmark of elegance. Afternoon tea continued to be very fashionable throughout the Edwardian period (1901-1910). By 1910, when the Argentinean Tango arrived, the London grand hotels began to host tea dances. By the early 1920s, the tea dance became so popular that it continued to be an important social event until World War II. Some of London's grand hotels such as the Savoy and the Waldorf Astoria on Aldwych have kept the tradition and still offer tea dances.

The History of Afternoon Tea
Charles II (c) National Portrait GallleryIn 1662, Catherine of Braganza of Portugal married Charles II of the English House of Stuart (picture credit to: National Portrait Gallery). It was Catherine of Braganza who made tea the official court beverage in the 1660's. At this time tea was a rare luxury good because it was highly taxed, expensive and scarce. It was the famed English East India Company that formally introduced tea to England in the 1600s. The East India Trading Company, which had a monopoly on China tea, presented Charles II with small gifts of tea for Catherine in 1664 and 1666 in an attempt to please him. The British tradition of afternoon tea is said to have started with Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 1840s. In the 19th century dinner was not served until 8.30 or 9.00 pm in the evening and the Duchess who always was hungry by mid-afternoon decided to ask her staff to serve bread, butter, cakes, biscuits and tea. Soon it became a fashionable pastime of the upper classes to have afternoon tea. The 19th century then saw the opening of tea houses such as Lyon's in London and the popularization of tea in America through Sir Thomas J. Lipton in 1890 who owned tea estates in Ceylon.

Rules, Etiquette and Dress Code
Afternoon tea first became fashionable in the 1840s, 200 years after the first tea was brought from China. In the 19th century, having afternoon tea was a graceful event, which was governed by a complex set of rules and etiquette. Tea-drinking prompted silversmiths and linen manufacturers to produce appropriate table ware and even the tea gown was invented. The dress code for traditional afternoon tea is still smart. Ladies don't have to wear dresses, hats and gloves anymore, but gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie in most places. Elegant-Lifestyle recommends asking the hall porter to lend men a tie, if they have forgotten theirs. Don't expect these to be the most stylish though. At Claridge's gentlemen are advised to ask in the men's cloakroom for a tie. Afternoon tea is served at approximately four o'clock. However, London grand hotels, generally serve tea from 3.30 to 5 pm. In most places an advance booking is advisable, if not necessary. For instance, for the Ritz Hotel we recommend to make a booking for afternoon tea several weeks in advance in order to avoid disappointment.

Blending teas began around 1870 when tea merchants such as Twinings, which has a royal warrant from H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, began to blend different teas in order to achieve a stable taste. Founded by Thomas Twining, who was born in 1675, Twinings invented the famous 'Earl Grey' blend of tea for Earl Grey, who was British Prime Minister from 1830-1835. This tea, which is flavoured with oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit, has become the favourite China blend for afternoon tea with English and foreign tea connoisseurs alike. A variation of 'Earl Grey' is offered by Twinings' 'Lady Grey'. Another afternoon favourite is 'Lapsang Souchong', a celebrated tea grown in China's Fukien province. The leaves are dried over a charcoal fire to give a distinctive smoky flavour. Then one might encounter 'Oolong', which is one of the world's most expensive teas. It is produced with meticulous care in mainland China and Taiwan and is valued for its delicate peach flavour. Even though teas from China tend to be typically for the afternoon, some people might prefer the stronger Indian teas such as 'Darjeeling' or 'Assam' from north-eastern India as a pick-me-up.

English tea is served on fine English bone china and with silver. Dainty sandwiches with the crusts cut off such as cucumber, egg and watercress or smoked salmon are served first. This is followed by fresh scones warm from the oven with generous spoonfuls of clotted cream, which is also known as 'Devonshire cream' and home-made strawberry jam. Other favourites might include crumpets, bath or chelsea buns, sticky black gingerbread, Victoria sandwich cake, dundee cake, shortbread or brandy snaps. An excellent book to read is 'Taking Tea at the Savoy' by Anton Edelmann, who has been at London's Savoy Hotel for 17 years and who is the Savoy's Maitre Chef. Mouthwatering recipes are presented with tales that conjure up tea time in a bygone era. Recipes include dundee cake, pear custard tarts, raspberry mille-feuilles, the Savoy choux pastry swans, pineapple and ginger cakes, apricot and pecan sticky buns and of course scones. There is also a chapter on 'Tea and Tangos' at the Savoy Hotel. Wonderful black and white photos decorate this little square booklet. 

The Berkeley Hotel
Impeccable service is the hallmark of the Berkeley. Tea at the Berkeley is an ideal option after a strenuous shopping spree in Knightsbridge. Afternoon tea is served in the intimate Lounge/Foyer Bar every day from 3.00-6.00 pm. Booking is advisable as the window tables are in high demand - especially on the weekends. Madonna, Gwynneth Paltrow, Posh Spice and David Beckham are amongst the better known celebrities to have been seen here. 'Afternoon Tea', which includes traditional afternoon tea sandwiches, homemade pastries, warm scones with Devonshire clotted clotted cream costs 33 GBP. Then, there is 'The Berkeley Champagne Afternoon Tea' from 41 GBP, which is served with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut. The custom of drinking tea is one of those civilized institutions for which the English are famous for. The Berkeley imports its own tea and blends it on the premises. The Berkeley's 'Afternoon Tea Blend' is called 'Dimbula', which is produced at one of Ceylon's oldest tea plantations. Upon request guests can also purchase this tea. 
Address: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL, Tel: +44-20-7235 6000, E-Mail: reservations@the-berkeley.co.uk, Website: www.the-berkeley.co.uk

Brown's Hotel
Browns Hotel Tea (c) Browns HotelEstablished in 1837 in London's fashionable Mayfair district, Brown's Hotel is London's oldest operating deluxe hotel. The hotel, which has a private town house atmosphere, was founded by Mr. James Brown, who was the former valet of the celebrated English romantic poet Lord George Byron (1788-1824). Following the £24-million renovation of Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel, The English Tea Room, which serves the famous afternoon tea in London, has returned with a modern twist. Afternoon Tea is served between 3pm and 6pm Monday to Friday and 1pm to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. There is a fireplace and there is a resident pianist. Tea comes on Victorian cake stands and is served with silver. Brown's have their own afternoon tea blend, including a choice of 17 different blends. The 'Brown's Afternoon Tea' costs 35 GBP and with a glass of chilled Taittinger Champagne 44-48 GBP. Address: Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP, Tel: +44-20-7493 6020, Fax: +44-20-7493 9381, E-Mail: tea.browns@roccofortecollection.com, Website: www.brownshotel.com

The Cadogan
Built in 1887, the Cadogan Hotel became associated with Irish poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) who was arrested here and who wrote the famous book 'Dorian Gray'. The Cadogan Hotel is a historic town house that has been welcoming discerning visitors for over 100 years. Situated on Sloane Street, it is an ideal and discreet place to stop for tea after a busy afternoon of shopping at Harrods or Harvey Nichols. As soon as you pass into the entrance hall there is a sense of tranquility and timelessness. The Queen Mother has had lunch here and Lord Cadogan stays at this hotel when in London. The Cadogan Hotel is very traditionally English and has the feeling of a private town house. Afternoon tea is served from 3.00-6.00 pm in the Edwardian Drawing Room. Sink into the deep comfortable sofas and armchairs and enjoy the peace. Bookings are advisable and dress is smart casual. 'Afternoon Tea' costs 12.50 GBP, is served with Sheffield silver and consists of assorted tea sandwiches, home baked scones, rich fruit cake and pastry. 
Address: 75 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SG, Tel: +44-20-7235 7141, Fax: +44-20-7245 0994, E-Mail: info@cadogan.com, Website: www.cadogan.com

The Connaught
This hotel in Mayfair was originally created as a place to stay for the landed gentry of England to stay during their visits to the capital. It first opened as 'The Coburg' in 1897, and was then renamed in 1917 as 'The Connaught' after the Duke of Connaught who was the third son of Queen Victoria. Guests are welcomed by doormen in top hats and white gloves. The entrance hall has a magnificent mosaic floor and a grand wooden staircase. Tea is served in the Red Room (trolley service ) and the Drawing Room (cake stands) from 3.30 to 5.30pm every day. Leading British interior designer Nina Campbell has given both rooms a stunning makeover. Hollywood star Sharon Stone famous for her role in 'Basic Instinct' and film star Lauren Bacall (ex-wife of Humphrey Bogart) are amongst the celebrities who have sampled the Connaught's 'Traditional Tea'. The tea costs 25 GBP and is served on blue patterned Limoges porcelain. There is also a special Connaught blend of Indian tea on offer. 
Address: Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL, Tel: +44-20-7499 7070, Fax: +44-20-7495 3262, E-Mail:  reservations@the-connaught.co.uk, Website: www.the-connaught.co.uk

Claridges (c) ClaridgesFounded in 1812 as the 'Mivart's', the hotel became 'Claridge's' in 1854 when William and Marianne Claridge acquired the hotel. Ever since then this hotel has offered quiet luxury, lavish hospitality and discreet service to crowned heads, princes and politicians, statesmen and celebrities, such as Madonna. In fact, it was at Claridge's that Queen Victoria met Empress Eugenie of France who was in residence there in 1860. Claridge's is celebrated for its opulent Art Deco surroundings. Tea is served in the Foyer and the Reading Room from 2.30-5.30pm. Bookings are preferred and gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket and tie at all times. Tea is served on Limoges porcelain with Robbe and Berking silver (founded 1874) and silver cake stands are so tall that they can be placed on the floor next to the table. Claridge's offers 14 different blends of tea. Entertainment is provided by a pianist and a violinist. 'Tea at Claridge's' costs 26 GBP. 
Address: Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1A 2JQ, Tel: +44-20-7629 8860, Fax: +44-20-7499 2210, E-Mail: info@claridges.co.uk, Website: www.claridges.co.uk

Dorchester Hotel
Dorchester Tea (c) Dorchester HotelUpper-crust and glamour is synonymous with the Dorchester, which first opened in 1931. Brigitte Bardot, Pierce Brosnan, Naomi Campbell, Cher, Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gianni Versace have all been to this citadel of luxury, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Afternoon tea is served from 2.30-6.00pm in the magnificent marble and gilded promenade by charming waiters and waitresses. Booking is essential and dress code is smart casual. There is a pianist who provides entertainment from 3.00 pm onwards every afternoon. Tea is served with silver and on Wedgwood porcelain. Relax with a glass of pink champagne with the 'Champagne Tea' for 28.50 GBP. The superb 'Dorchester Afternoon Tea' is for 34.50 GBP. Guests can eat as much as they want. For something even more substantial test the 'Dorchester High Tea' for 38.50 GBP, which is served until 8.00pm. The Dorchester Hotel also has its own most popular brand of tea, which is a special 'Orange Pekoe' blend and can be purchased on request. 
Address: Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1A 2HJ, Tel: +44-20-7629 8888, Fax: +44-20-7317 6464, E-Mail:  reservations@dorchesterhotel.com, Website: www.dorchesterhotel.com

Lanesborough Hotel
Lanesborough Tea (c) The LanesboroughThis very grand hotel is a sumptuous temple of luxury. Prior to being converted into one of London's grandest hotels this landmark building of 1828 was the St. George's hospital that made the nurse Florence Nightingale famous. Everything undulates with richness: there are magnificent antiques and oil paintings. Tea is served anywhere guests wish between 3.30-6.00 pm. The main place to have tea is in the 'Conservatory', which is a small model of the Brighton Pavilion and is inspired by an oriental Chinoiserie theme. Prominent guests like to withdraw to the balconies in the 'Conservatory', where they are more private. A pianist fulfills special requests. Tea can also be served in the most stylish 'Withdrawing Room' or even the 'Library'. The choice is between 'The Lanesborough Tea' for 24.50 GBP or 'The Belgravia Tea'  (champagne) for 29.50 GPB . All is served on Royal Worcester with silver. 
Address: Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA, Tel: +44-20-7259 55 99, Fax: +44-20-7259 56 06, E-Mail: info@lanesborough.co.uk, Website: www.lanesborough.co.uk

The Park Lane Hotel
The Park Lane Hotel is a grand hotel with a unique Art Deco Ballroom - it is a glittering 1920s jewel reset for the 21st century. The true heart of the Park Lane Hotel, which first opened in 1924, is the Palm Court where afternoon tea is served accompanied by live music. The Palm Court with its domed yellow-and-white glass ceiling has a glamorous 1920s atmosphere. Afternoon tea is served from 3.00-6.00pm. The 'Park Lane Afternoon Tea' for 21 GBP includes finger sandwiches, scones and followed by French pastries. A variation of this is the 'Champagne Afternoon Tea' for 28.50 GBP and the 'Devonshire Cream Tea' for 10.50 GBP with scones.
Address: The Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BX, Tel: +44-20-7499 6321, Fax: +44-20-7499 1965, Website: www.sheraton.com

The Ritz
Ritz Palm Court (c) The Ritz LondonThe Ritz Palm Court is the most fashionable place to have tea in London. First opened by Cesar Ritz in 1906, this hotel overlooking Green Park is synonymous with luxury. Bought 5 years ago by the Berkeley Brothers, the hotel has undergone a 35 million GBP refurbishment to restore it to its original splendour and Louis XVI style. At least 2 weeks advance booking is necessary to have tea weekdays and 8 weeks are required to avoid disappointment for afternoon tea on the weekend. Having afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel has become so popular that there are nowadays three sittings: 1.30pm, 3.30 pm and 5.30pm. Tea served in the elegant Palm Court and there is music by a pianist or a harpist. If you haven't booked in advance there might be a good chance to have tea upon special request in the bar if the Palm Court is fully booked. The 'Ritz Afternoon Tea' costs 27 GBP and you can eat as much as you want. Jacket and tie for men required. Address: 150 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1V 9BR, Tel: +44-20-7493 8181 Toll Free from the USA: 1-877-748 9536, Fax: +44-20-7493-2687, E-Mail: enquire@theritzhotel.co.uk, Website: www.theritzhotel.co.uk

The Savoy
A hundred years of classic glamour and rich tradition - the Savoy Hotel is ideally situated to have teabefore going out to one of the West End theatres. Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman, Hemingway,
Fitzgerald, Gershwin, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson all have been here. To take tea at the Savoy (28 GBP,
Champagne Tea 39.94 GBP is to combine that tradition with all the elegance and sophistication that befits one of London's great hotels. Afternoon tea is served from 2:00-5:30pm for Traditonal Afternoon Tea and  5:30pm-7:30pm for Theatre Tea in the magnificent Thames Foyer with its original art deco mirrors. It is best to book and dress code is smart casual. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a pianist. The Savoy Hotel has its own exclusive blend called the Savoy Blend which is known to be 'traditional yet intriguing', the tea is served on Royal Doulton bone china with silver cake stands.  A little momento is to purchase your own special tea to take home or Anton Edelmann's 'Taking Tea at the Savoy'.
Address: Strand, London WC2R 0EU, Tel: +44-20-7836 4343, E-Mail: svy.dining@fairmont.com, Website: www.the-savoy.co.uk

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