It’s currently Afternoon Tea Week, an annual event which celebrates the great British teatime tradition. On until August 14, Eileen Leahy reveals the history of this centuries’ old tradition and where to enjoy a smorgasbord of sweet and savoury treats locally…
From quaint country tea rooms to rustic farm shops and luxury hotels, you’re never too far from a silver tiered stand of finger sandwiches, gooey cakes and freshly baked scones in and around Tunbridge Wells.
And this week there are plenty of places offering an array of indulgent afternoon delights courtesy of it being National Afternoon Tea Week.
On until August 14, lots of local venues are offering delicious teatime treats – and special offers – in order to mark this event which celebrates this centuries’ old tradition.
But how did serving up sandwiches, scones and sweet cakes all begin?
Well with the rise in popularity of tea drinking in the 19th century, it is said that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, and other ladies of the upper social classes would get a little peckish ahead of dinner.
The solution? To have a nice cup of tea and a light snack mid-afternoon to keep the hunger pangs at bay. This soon became part of the Duchess’s daily routine, and so she began to invite friends to the house to join her for refreshment.
However, it was thanks to Queen Victoria that afternoon tea came to be the more formal affair we enjoy today. During her reign, tea service became increasingly grand – and enjoying the ritual in the country’s celebrated dining rooms reflected one’s social status.
Etiquette played a big part too, from the dress code to the way that tea was poured and stirred.
Today of course there are no strict rules when it comes to serving an afternoon tea, but traditionally it will consist of an ornate three-tiered cake stand displaying a selection of dainty finger sandwiches and other small savouries, warm scones with accompanying pots of clotted cream and preserves, and a variety of visually appealing bite-size cakes and pastries.
This enticing spread will usually be accompanied by your choice of a pot of freshly brewed loose-leaf tea, usually Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam are offered. But increasingly glasses of fizz – Champagne or Prosecco – are becoming the tipple of choice for many to enjoy with their savoury and sweet treats.
Henry James (1843-1916), the great American author who spent most of his writing life in England, said: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” So, with that in mind, we cherry pick our favourite local venues where you can indulge in an afternoon tea…
Great for a stunning view or being outdoors – if you want to head out of the urban sprawl and feel at one with nature, then pay a visit to the elegant Salomons Estate on the Tunbridge Wells/Southborough borders. Here, they are offering a delicious Prosecco afternoon tea, complete with a selection of fresh sandwiches, scones and traditional sweet treats which can be enjoyed while you dine in the stunning conservatory and admire the impressive – and very grand – grounds and lake. Prices are £22.50 per person and if you book during Afternoon Tea Week (until August 14) you can enjoy a free glass of prosecco too.
Vintage chic – this cool little café in Tunbridge Wells High Street focuses on providing its customers with fantastic homemade cakes and specialist teas, and is a hot-spot for afternoon tea. But they also offer take-away afternoon tea hampers which you can pre-order (with 72 hours’ notice) for £45 for two and enjoy in the location of your choice. The hamper includes a selection of coronation chicken, cucumber with minted crème fraîche and smoked salmon with cream cheese and dill as well as vegan options like avocado, tomato and rocket. Then of course there’s oodles of Victorian sponge and fruit and plain scones to feast on too!
THE SPA HOTEL
Classic – served from Wednesdays to Sundays in the hotel’s stunning orangery from 1.30pm to 4pm, this is the place to go for something just that little bit extra special. Tables are laid out with a luxury assortment of homemade scones, indulgent cakes and delicate finger sandwiches are offered up with a selection of aromatic teas – or, if you prefer, a glass of Nyetimber. Prices start from £27 per person or £40 if having the Nyetimber option.
ONE WARWICK PARK
Contemporary – located in Chapel Place, this chic hotel is specially opening its doors for two dates to celebrate National Afternoon Tea Week. On Thursday August 11 and Sunday August 14 guests can indulge in a delicious afternoon tea selection of either traditional tea (£25), a Prosecco (£28.50) offering or a Champagne (£33.50) choice. Boasting mouth-watering savoury bites and sweet treats created by the hotel’s talented pastry chefs this promises to be an event not to be missed!
The luxury treat – the quintessentially British restaurant located on the High Street has partnered with Laurent Perrier to offer a glass of Rosé Champagne with its afternoon tea experience. This includes a delicious array of sandwiches, including Ivy Cure smoked salmon and cream cheese fingers, grilled chicken and truffle mayonnaise brioche and pickled cucumber, courgette and basil double decker rolls. Freshly baked fruit scones are served with clotted cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry preserve, while the sweets include a chocolate plant pot, madeleine cake with lemon curd, red velvet raspberry cake and a strawberry milkshake, all accompanied by a choice of teas, infusions or coffees. The Summer Afternoon Tea starts from £28.95 per person, or £37.95 per person with a glass of Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne, and is available to enjoy seven days a week and served between 3:00 – 4:45pm.