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Everything You Need To Know About England’s Iconic Afternoon Tea

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at LUC chapter.

The British are known for many things but my personal favorite is tea. Whether it be black tea (with no milk – yes, I got many looks when I ordered it in London) or a relaxing herbal tea at night, I knew I needed to try a traditional afternoon tea when I visited London. Upon my arrival, I learned a lot about the tradition and the drink I love dearly. 

According to Historic UK, even though tea was popular in England in the 1660s because of King Chalres ll and his wife, Catherine de Barganza – “afternoon tea” wasn’t a tradition until the mid 19th century. 

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, in 1840. The Duchesse routinely became hungry at around 4 PM and since traditionally in her household, dinner wasn’t served until 8 PM, that left a long period to wait for food. To aid her hunger, the Duchess would ask for a tray of tea, cake, bread and butter to be brought to her chambers. Once this became a habit, she would invite friends to join her and it became a spectacle. 

This pause/late afternoon “snack” became a fashion moment for high society women. During the new social event in the 1880’s, upper-class and society women would change into long dresses, gloves and prestigious hats for their tea. The menu for a “traditional” afternoon tea usually consists of finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries, and scones with clotted cream and jams. 

If you ever find yourself in London, you must try an afternoon tea for yourself. No need to wear the ball gown and hats, but if you want to, go for it! Prices of this service can vary but I would say on average, the cost is usually between 50-80 pounds per person. Of course, the cost could be less or more than this, it depends what area of the city you are in. 

There are many hotels that offer afternoon tea such as the Ritz, the Savoy and the Dorchester. These places tend to be on the pricier side and most certainly require a reservation. If you find yourself in London and want to enjoy an afternoon tea on a budget and possibly without a reservation, I would recommend The English Rose

The English Rose

Found near Buckingham Palace, this quaint and vintage cafe is the perfect place to hit while doing the tourist sites. They only accept walk-ins, so no need to plan too much, and offer afternoon tea from 12 PM to 5 PM. The adorable location won the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice for seven years which entered it into the Trip Advisor Hall of Fame. You can get a traditional afternoon tea for two for the price of 44 pounds (22 pounds each!) making this a beyond affordable option. Even though the price is cheaper, the service is still filling and it is an added bonus that the aesthetic around the cafe is perfect for your next Instagram post. Another added bonus – the cafe offers an afternoon tea “takeaway” which is perfect for picnics in a park or garden!

Among these options, I must offer a third one that is so unique that it’s hard to believe. When you think of London, what do you think of? Tea? Telephone booths? Royals? Double decker buses? Bridget’s Bakery can provide you with all that and some. Offering you a traditional afternoon on a double decker bus while getting a sightseeing tour, this bakery makes sure you can cross off everything on your list in a short time. In addition to the service, you can buy merchandise and get to keep the tumblr you drink your tea in. It’s the perfect way to feel truly British. Full disclosure, the price is 45 pounds per person so it’s on the pricier side but is worth it. 

Sarah is from Dayton, Ohio and is currently studying MultiMedia Journalism at Loyola University Chicago. She enjoys thrifting, traveling, fashion, film photography and lifestyle. She is a creative person and finds comfort in writing, exploring the great city of Chicago, and listening to music. Her dream job is to travel and see the world as she writes about different cultures and activities to do in those different countries. Instagram: @sarahgsommers