Afternoon tea is one of Britain’s favourite pastimes. From The Ritz in London to Bettys in Yorkshire, we pick some of the best places for tea in the UK
Britons drink 165 million cups of tea each day, according to the UK Tea & Infusions Association. About 98 per cent is drunk with milk. About 96 per cent is in the form of a teabag (a US invention).
The fashion of taking afternoon tea is largely credited to one Anna Russell. The 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have introduced it at her home in the mid-19th century to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. Later, the working cases had it as their main evening meal, which is why some British people call dinner ‘tea’ today.
The most expensive pot of tea in Britain was sold at the Royal China Club on London’s Baker Street for £180 per pot. The club says that the tea leaves of Da Honh Pao (Imperial Red Robe) are left to mature and gain flavour for 80 years before being served.
Here are our top places to take afternoon tea in the UK…
As the home of Charles Grey, Howick Hall in Northumberland has to be a contender for the most genuine Earl Grey experience. It was here that a Chinese mandarin is said to have created the blend for the Earl, specifically formulated to disguise the taste of the lime in the water. Today visitors can enjoy a selection of teas at the Earl Grey Tea House, in the hall’s east quadrant.
The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at London’s Fortnum & Mason was opened by the Queen in 2012. The salon offers tea tasting at tables with expert tearistas to advise and help in the selection of your chosen blend.
The Goring Hotel by Grosvenor Gardens, near Buckingham Palace, was named ‘Top London Afternoon Tea’ in the Tea Guild 2013 Awards. The hotel serves tea daily on the terrace overlooking its gardens and offers a selection of fresh sandwiches, clotted cream scones and homemade pastries.
Take part in a tasting master class at the oldest tea company in Britain. At Twinings in London you can learn about more than 5,000 years of tea history, and 300 years of Twinings expertise, following the leaf from plantation to cup. Costs £30pp for a private two-hour session.
Served in The Palm Court from tiered silver cake stands and tea pots, tea at The Ritz provides a glimpse into an elegant past. Savour delicate finger sandwiches, cream scones and dainty pastries accompanied by 16 tea varieties, all the while serenaded by the resident pianist. The Ritz operates a dress code for tea: jeans are not allowed and men must wear a jacket and tie.
Outside London, Davenports Tea Room in Cheshire won the Tea Guild’s ‘Top Tea Place 2013’ award. The Alice in Wonderland themed venue is close to the birthplace of author Lewis Carroll.
The Tea Guild’s ‘Top City and Country Hotel 2013’ award went to The Montagu Arms, Hampshire. Judges loved its “delightful surroundings, the staff’s extensive knowledge of teas, and scrumptious food”.
Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms was founded in Harrogate in 1919 by Frederick Belmont who immigrated to England from Switzerland. Now numbering six branches across Yorkshire, Bettys is operated by Belmont’s descendants. www.bettys.co.uk
Camellia’s Tea House in Kingly Court, just off Carnaby Street in London, stocks over five types of Earl Grey tea and takes its name from the plant that produces white, green and black teas. The quirky surroundings offer a different afternoon tea experience, with 1930s swing music playing in the background.
Billed as a traditional English tea shop and coffee house, Tisanes is located in a 17th century building in the Cotswolds. It offers 19 black teas, as well as herbal, green and fruit varieties. There’s also a selection of sandwiches and cakes: the homemade Victoria sponge is a speciality.
Tea to take home
If you want to buy your own British blends of tea then there are plenty of options. The food hall at Harrods is a good place to start. You can opt for a traditional blend at Twinings, or buy a more contemporary brand such as Prince and Sons Tea, which produces 12 varieties, from Afternoon Tea to Blood Orange.
For more on the history of tea see the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of BRITAIN, available on our digital newsstand.
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