London – The Unofficial World Capital of Afternoon Tea

January 31, 2013 6:25 pm

Afternoon tea was once a thing of the past. A whimsical, quaint way to pass the time for elderly ladies and spinsters. A few years ago it was only found in Agatha Christie novels and in period dramas on TV, but now, well now, it’s a different story…

London has reinvented itself yet again as the World Capital of Afternoon Tea (that’s my own title that I am bestowing, it’s not official). Never before has tea and cake been so fashionable, so thrilling, so avant-garde. Everywhere you look there are patisseries, cupcake boutiques, cafes and tea salons. And I couldn’t be happier. My whole world consists of tea and cake, so the very day that cake shops started popping up everywhere and my email inbox began filling up with offers for afternoon tea, I galloped down the street singing (quite literally). And every day since I’ve been dragging various friends and family members to every tea salon and cake boutique in the city. And if they won’t go, I drag complete strangers off the street. Afternoon tea’s no fun for just one.

So if you’re visiting London, you simply MUST have afternoon tea of some kind.  And when I say ‘afternoon tea’ it doesn’t just mean one thing. “Really?!” I hear you gasp. Oh yes really! And since I’m such an expert on such matters *insert conceited head toss here* I’ll explain in a little more detail.afternoon tea

1. ‘The Strapped for Time (or cash) Tea’ – this is usually just tea and a slice of cake. Usually normal tea (you know, Earl Grey, English Breakfast) with a lovely big slab of whatever cake your little heart desires. This type of afternoon tea is best taken in a small local cafe, or maybe in a nearby patisserie. This is London, there are now patisseries everywhere so you won’t have to wander very far. But if you’re feeling particularly lazy, a Starbucks or whatever will do. This is how the tea addicts usually get their fix.

2. ‘The Cream Tea’ – now, this option is a more ‘countryside’ deal but still much loved in the capital. Forever popular in the counties (particularly in Devon and Cornwall where it originated), the cream tea is a well kept secret of the English. Us Brits are fiercely proud of the heavenly clotted cream, perfectly sticky homemade jams and warm doughy goodness of the scones. No one can deny how good a cream tea is. On more than one occasion I have had a cream tea for lunch, I am ashamed (but not really) to admit.

cream tea

3. ‘The Whole Shebang’ – this is afternoon tea at its absolute finest. I don’t just mean tea and cake, I mean the whole shebang (as the title of this section has already given away). This is the kind of thing you’d expect at the Savoy and Hilton (but can be done elsewhere on smaller budgets). Be prepared for the experience of your life. Out comes the cake stand! What do you find? Tiny little sandwiches! All filled with delicious, but delicate fillings, and all with the crusts cut off of course. Tiny little cakes! Fancies, tartlettes and other Alice-in-Wonderland-esque delights. Delicate tea cups that look like they’ll shatter as soon as you put your lips to them. And the tea! The TEA! The tea menus that come with this affair are like the unabridged version of “War and Peace”! You’ll not find anything quite so wonderfully eccentric anywhere else in the world.

So when in London, look out for those all important stand-alone blackboards on the pavement proclaiming ‘Afternoon Tea Served Here!’ Book a table at a fancy hotel for a couple of hours of absolute bliss, or simply find a patisserie and wander inside. It’ll be like wandering into Narnia – but much more fancy and exciting.

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