Afternoon delight

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James

Afternoon tea … I should start by saying that I have indulged in far too numerous to mention every one but there have been a few which are particularly memorable for one reason or another. I’ve eaten teas that cost £10 for two, and a tea that cost £65 for two and let me tell you, cost is no indicator of either deliciousness or value for money!

Below is a picture of my daughter’s hen party at my house in 2016. Having seen the photographs of a small scale afternoon tea that I had prepared for friends, she suggested that I might like  to provide similar for the home-town version of her hen party. (I think she considered that her ‘real’ hen party would be a little too raucous for her mother and other ladies of a certain age)! It was fun to prepare but harder work than I’d anticipated. I made tiny trifles in liqueur glasses  and the scones were accompanied by not only the traditional strawberry jam but  also blackcurrant which I prefer. It seemed that several others liked it too as the strawberry was barely touched. That’s the nice thing about a DIY version – you get exactly what you like best!

6. Aft tea

The tradition of taking afternoon tea began in 1840 and reputedly arose from the need of Anna, seventh Duchess of Bedford, to fill the hunger gap before a late dinner. At around 4pm each day she would call for bread & butter, tea & cake. She began inviting friends to join her and afternoon tea became a fashionable event, even attracting its own style of formal attire. The occasion fell out of fashion but the old tradition saw a resurgence around ten years ago and now it seems that every purveyor of tea and cakes, from high spec hotel to local garden centre, offers its version of afternoon tea.

Confusion reigns over what exactly constitutes a cream tea, afternoon tea or high tea and it depends on what one reads as to how they are defined but in general terms, a cream tea provides scones with jam and cream, afternoon tea adds to this sandwiches and cake and high tea is an altogether more substantial affair and includes hot food.

It is now some years since my first formal afternoon tea.  Beatrix Potter’s old home, Lindeth Howe which overlooks Lake Windermere, provided the inspiration for Icing on the cake, a piece I wrote which won me a place in the final of the Press Associations Midland Media Awards. I potsed it in the early days of my blog. Click here for the link if you’d like to read it:  The icing on the cake

I’ve been to some beautiful hotels  and have fond memories of the teas at  Brockencote Hall (in the library – oh so peaceful) and The Chateau Impney in Worcestershire,  but my overall favourite tea was enjoyed at Orestone Manor (below)  in South Devon.  Sitting in warm sunshine on a raised terrace overlooking the wooded gardens which stretch down to Lyme Bay, it is an experience that we’re keen to repeat when we visit the area again this summer.  That the large, fresh scones tasted amazing was a bonus!

Orestone

The Four Teas in Stratford upon Avon is a 1940’s style cafe where Glen Miller provides the background music whilst authentically dressed staff  serve customers in  surroundings which resemble a war-time sitting room.  It’s reasonably priced and the food, thank goodness, is not subject to rationing!  But this place is more about the fun experience than the elegance of presentation.

 

At Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in Birmingham several of us went to celebrate a friend’s ‘big’ birthday. It’s the only afternoon tea where I’ve even found it necessary to request more jam and cream!  The tiny pots meant to be shared between three of us contained enough for no more than the smallest smear of each.  No complaints about the taste though.  The surroundings are super-smart and the views stretch right across the city.

Marco P W

Bettys of Harrogate: the surroundings were elegant, the pianist excellent and the parlour palms added atmosphere. The tiny cakes were exquisite (see below) but the sandwiches were woeful. I know the by-word for afternoon tea is dainty but they were minuscule and filled with the thinnest of filling imaginable. We had bought some of the famous Bettys ‘Fat Rascals’ (a cross between a rock cake and a scone with a cherry and almond face) to take home with us and felt hungry enough to eat them on the train! This is rare indeed; a carbohydrate-laden afternoon tea usually means that nothing else is required until the following breakfast time. You pay of course for the reputation of Bettys but I didn’t think it warranted £32.50 a head.

7. Bettys

A local hotel serves what is probably the best value for money afternoon tea I’ve encountered – £9.99 a head and so much food. It wasn’t the most elegant or dainty but the food was tasty and the portions very generous. Twelve of us went and the staff regularly topped up the tea and coffee and variously asked whether we needed more sandwiches/cream/jam. They even encouraged us to take the leftovers home.

And finally, my daughter-in-law and I took the grandsons to a garden centre which has a soft-play area and decided to have the ‘lunchtime afternoon tea’. Expectation wasn’t enormous but we had a choice of cheese or ham sandwich, a scone with jam and cream and a couple of small cakes with coffee for something ridiculous like £7 for the two of us and do you know what – it was excellent. We shared with the little boys and it made a very reasonably priced lunch for the four of us.

Afternoon tea, it seems, is not necessarily a case of ‘you get what you pay for’.

 

 

13 comments

  1. Oh, what a delicious post! I adore afternoon tea and I think it’s about time I treated husband and myself to this somewhere or I made one myself. I love the idea of miniature trifles in liqueur glasses (for the hen party) but I can’t see those on the table! And I like the look of what appear to be miniature ‘wraps’ rather than just sandwiches? Are they wraps or am I wrong? We had have lovely afternoon teas, too, in some delightful places but while we’ve had morning coffee at Orestone Manor, we’ve not indulged in afternoon tea there (it’s not far from where we live.)

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    • Good point that you can’t see everything on the table, Margaret. I have done a separate post with extra pictures! Yes, wraps as well as sandwiches. It was a lovely afternoon and my daughter said it was the best afternoon tea she had eaten! Husband liked it because there was a nice variety of cake left over.

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  2. My friend and I were treated to afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason’s by friends over from the USA. At first friend and I horrified by the price refused but the others insisted. It was amazing! We continually had more tea and could try 2 or 3 different types. The attentive waiter kept topping up our sweet and savory stands and reminded us of the gateaux on a central table. We were there ages and told to take our time.

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    • Hello Jean, thank you for taking the time to comment. I expect Fortnums is a similar price to The Ritz. I’ve not been to either but I’m sure the experience was wonderful. It certainly sounds it! I always think that if an experience something you can talk about and enjoy re-living for years to come, it’s worth the cost.

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    • Jean, I note that you have a blog too. I’ve taken a look but unfortunately I am unable to leave comments other than on the Name/URL option. I mention this as I posted about it on my blog some months ago and some of those using Blogspot added it as one of their options.

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  3. Your afternoon teas sound lovely. When I was growing up, we used to always have tea around 4:30 p.m.; we didn’t call it afternoon tea, but there were various bits and pieces served along with the tea – sandwiches, other savory items, some pastries, or biscuits, or cakes. The menu varied. These days, I usually have a cup of tea when I come home after work, around 6:30 p.m., and might, or might not, have something to eat with it.

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    • The only time we had tea when I was a child was on a Sunday. It consisted of tinned fruit and bread & butter. Seriously weird! I detest butter and so I had dry bread!

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  4. I lived with my english grandmother during my teens, and was of course introduced to afternoon tea! I loved it. Dainty old crockery, dainty bits of food, love and laughter. What could be better?

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      • Ratnamurti is a yoga name, which I have had for nearly 40 years. I am unsure of my ancestry DNA as far as having it officially done, but as far as the family line goes, it’s English mostly, (sussex and I don’t know where else), with a much smaller equal amount of Maori (I’m a New Zealander) and Jewish. This country is so diverse over the past 200 years in terms of ancestry, that most of us are a ‘fruit salad’ of races.

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  5. I love afternoon tea too. Such a treat. Looking forward to my next one. Not sure when that will be. But i will enjoy it i am sure. Xx

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