Afternoon Tea - a Great British Tradition!

Afternoon Tea - a Great British Tradition!

Afternoon Tea is one of the most quintessential English customs and this summer we are celebrating this delightful tradition

Tea itself has been a popular afternoon drink since the 1600’s but Afternoon Tea is a surprisingly new tradition and was introduced to England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840.  More houses became able to remain cost-effectively lit until the late evening, meaning the evening meal became fashionably later and later.  The Duchess found herself complaining of ‘having that sinking feeling’ in the gap between lunch and dinner and requested that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. 

Later friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire to delight in Afternoon Tea and this proved so popular the Duchess continued the tradition when she returned to London.  Word spread during the 1880’s and soon Afternoon tea became a fashionable event where upper class and society women would change into glamourous gowns, gloves and hats for the occassion.  It wasn’t until Queen Victoria engaged in the Afternoon Tea ritual that it became a formal occasion on a larger scale, known as ‘tea receptions’ where as many as 200 hundred guests with an open ‘at home’ invitation could visit between 4pm and 7pm; this was the genesis of Afternoon Tea as we know it.

‘Tea Rooms’ were all the rage in the late 19th century, quickly becoming THE place for meeting friends and sharing gossip.  They were also considered one of the few respectable places for women to meet without a chaperone, so the out-of-home Afternoon Tea took off like a social network.  At some point music was added to the occasion and fashionable young people attended afternoon tea dances in the most stylish of hotels, a practice which continued until the Second World War.

Afternoon Tea is also known as ‘low’ tea and was traditionally served to the upper classes at around 4 o’clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park.  The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial ‘high’ tea later in the day, at 5 or 6 o’clock, in place of a late dinner.  The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.

Nearly 200 years on from the Duchess of Bedford’s innovation Afternoon Tea is as popular as ever with venues across the country offering the chance to delight in the tradition.  Here at Alexander Hotels we have chosen to embrace the popular tradition while also embracing modern European influences within our cakes and pastries, often changing these little parcels of YUM to encourage use of seasonally grown products.

All three of our award-winning hotels offer Traditional and Champagne Afternoon Tea, served within one of our beautifully appointed lounges, Restaurants or in the warmer months Al Fresco on the terrace within the gorgeous gardens.

If you are looking for something with an extra touch of elegance why not try our Premium 7 Course Afternoon tea Experience, served at Alexander House on the first Saturday of each month, a true delight for any foodie or Afternoon Tea lover.


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