By Manos Angelakis
London’s Afternoon Teas
by Susan Cohen
A number of years ago, when I had an office in London, I used to love going to Claridge’s or the Hyde Park Hotel (now London’s Mandarin Oriental) for the quintessential British custom: afternoon tea or high tea (see below for definition depending on class) and, many times, I invited clients to join me in this rather elaborate afternoon affair.
According to lore, Anna Maria the seventh Duchess of Bedford, invented afternoon tea when, becoming hungry during the long period between noon lunch and 9 pm supper, she asked her attendants to serve tea and cakes or scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam in her boudoir while she would recline on her daybed. Eventually she invited close friends to join her in what became a festive “event” fashionable for the entire upper crust.
One of the public relations people at the Savoy Group, who were clients of my marketing company at the time, and who was very class conscious, corrected me every time I said “let’s have high tea”.
According to her, the higher classes have “afternoon tea” not “high tea.” It is the lower classes that have “high tea” because, supposedly, they could not afford to have both tea and supper, so high tea is a meal that includes tea, and is served on a table between tea time and supper time.
Be that as it may, London has numerous venues where afternoon tea is served; some with more pomp and circumstance than others and it is mostly a fairly grand affair beloved by both locals and visitors, with servers dressed in embroidered vests and Victorian breaches.
The newly updated “London’s Afternoon Teas” is an exceptional guide to 50 places in and around London where afternoon tea can be enjoyed; both well known venues such as Claridge’s and Fortnum & Mason and lesser known as Hotel du Vin at Henley-on-Thames. In the book there are also recipes for such standards as Mince Pies, Buttermilk Scones, Shortbread, and Brazil Nut Cake with lovely photographs of rooms, settings and individual dishes.
It is a few years since I have visited the United Kingdom, but afternoon tea is a custom that every self-respecting English person still partakes of, whether they are in the upper classes or not.
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