Drinking tea can be dated back to the third millennium BC in China. Despite it being Britain’s favourite hot beverage, it wasn’t popularized here until the 17th century, by King Charles II and his wife.
By all accounts we were quite late to the tea party.
A couple of centuries after the humble cuppa was brought to the masses in the UK, afternoon tea became customary for a certain subset of society.
The practice was said to have begun when Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, complained of constantly being hungry during the late afternoon.
At the time it was fashionable to have a late dinner at around 8pm, leaving a large gap between meals.
To combat the ‘sinking feeling’ she described having each afternoon, the Duchess started taking a cup of tea and a light snack at this time.
While at first this was a private affair, she soon began inviting friends round.
The custom grew, and quickly became a fashionable event in high society.
These days, afternoon tea is less a daily occurrence than a luxurious treat.
This makes it a lucrative business, with many hotels, tearooms and restaurants offering this quintessentially British experience.
What’s on the menu can vary, but sandwiches and nibbles are traditional — washed down with tea of course.
Here are our fave haunts for giving afternoon tea a go.
Comins Tea House, Bath
Nestled in the historic city of Bath, Comins Tea House offers a range of fine loose leaf teas.
Don’t expect a traditional afternoon tea though; Comins mixes the old and the new with classic ingredients and modern recipes.
The decor reflects this, with clean lines and subdued colours making for a chilled and relaxing pit-stop.
If you’re after chintzy china and floral walls, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Looking for an edgy setting to take your tea?
Try Sketch in London’s Mayfair.
You’ll be served in the Gallery restaurant, which is expertly decorated in cakey shades for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory vibes.
You’ll be offered champagne and poured tea by a tea master (yes, that’s a real job).
Expect fancy nibbles, classic sandwiches and array of pastries and scones. Delicious!
Colonnades at The Signet Library, Edinburgh
Right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town is the Signet Library, where you can enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea made with the finest Scottish ingredients.
Surrounded by books and Corinthian columns, this beautifully restored library is perfect for treating yourself, whether you just need a pick-me-up or it’s a special occasion.
There’s an extensive tea list, plenty of fizz and superb service to enjoy.
If you’ve got any special dietary requirements, just let them know and you’ll have lots of alternatives to choose from.
Looking for some shades for your next trip? How about this ornate pair from Tiffany?
Tiffany & Co. TF4119
Like this? Find out about the origins of different cakes from around the UK here
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