Monday, February 07, 2005

Afternoon Tea in London

From the Newsletter, Letter from London:
By Caroline De Winter

Hello all, Elizabeth is taking a little break today. She's exhausted from her RWA NYC meeting on Saturday and her busy social life, so I will be blogging today.
I’m sitting here at the Ritz Hotel at the top of Piccadilly . As I sip my cup of Early Grey, the lines of William Blake’s poem, ‘Oh to be in England now that spring is here’ run through my mind. I love London at any time of the year. As you all know I’ve set many of my books in London, including The American Earl. I try to come at least once a year to do research, and I thought I would share my travels with my readers.

According to author Henry James, "There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." I for one agree with him. There’s nothing better after a hard day of sightseeing than to sit down for a nice cup of tea. Decadent, Civilized, Relaxing...on my first trip to London with parents when I was fourteen, I was introduced to the wonderful delights of Afternoon Tea and I have been hooked ever since. I try to have afternoon tea in every city that I go to, and I’ve compiled quite a list. If any of my readers would like a copy please email me at

I thought I would share with you a little history about Afternoon tea. The custom of taking tea in the afternoon became fashionable in England in the early 19th century, an era when the day's main meals were a hearty, early breakfast and a late-evening meal served at around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. at night. Lunch, as we know it today did not yet exist, though a light midday snack was served at noon.

Late one afternoon in 1840, Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who often experienced a sinking feeling as the day wore on, instructed her maid to bring a pot of tea and a tempting selection of small sandwiches and cakes to her boudoir. [By the way, a boudoir does not refer to her bedroom, but her sitting room] Hunger pangs vanished; the gap between breakfast and dinner had been filled with finesse. Soon the duchess began inviting friends over to indulge in a reviving hour or so of sipping, nibbling, and gossip.

A half-century later, Queen Victoria's love of tea firmly established this refreshing ritual as an enduring social tradition, and the Victorian era became the golden age of afternoon tea. Hostesses vied with each other to make 4 o'clock tea a calm, refined respite of sumptuousness and elegance. There was even a special outfit designed called the tea gown.

Having afternoon tea has been a fashionable social event in London for over 150 years. Tea is undoubtedly the British national drink and having afternoon tea is an important part of English life. Having tea in the glamorous and luxurious surroundings of a grand hotel is an indulgence for the extravagant traveler and the Londoner alike. The London Grand Hotel Tea is something for connoisseurs. Since the late 1880s, grand hotels have been offering afternoon tea to their guests in style. Having afternoon tea at the Ritz or the Savoy became the hallmark of elegance.

By 1910, the London grand hotels began to host tea dances. By the early 1920s, the tea dance became so popular that it continued to be an important social event until World War II. Some of London's grand hotels such as the Savoy and the Waldorf Astoria on Aldwych have kept the tradition and still offer tea dances.
My absolute favorite place in London to take afternoon tea is here at the Ritz. Every day of the year this most British of traditions may be enjoyed in The Palm Court. Tea is served from noon and there are five sittings every day. Reservations are strongly recommended either by phone or through the Ritz website (how modern!). The Ritz, London has a formal dress code in its public areas, gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket and tie when using The Palm Court or The Ritz Restaurant (Jeans and/or training shoes are not permitted). Here’s a sample of a traditional afternoon tea menu. (Many thanks to the great people at the Ritz Hotel for generously allowing me to reproduce their menu.)

£34.00 per personAfternoon Tea Sandwiches
Smoked Salmon
Egg Mayonnaise with Cress
Chicken and Mayonnaise
Cucumber with Cream Cheese
Freshly Baked Raisin and Apple Scones
with Devonshire Clotted Cream and organic Strawberry Preserve
Assortment of Afternoon Tea Pastries and Cakes
Fruits of The Forest Compote with English Cream
Ritz Selected Teas or Ritz Blend Filter Coffee

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