Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. She would become hungry around 3pm and would instruct her servants to fetch her a tray of tea, bread and cakes. It then became a regular habit which she then started to enjoy with friends. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
Though we may no longer dress for the occasion, it is still a tradition that brings friends together and many establishments have developed twists on the traditional version as well as new ways to enjoy them. I have tried a selection from luxury brands, high street cafes and small businesses so there is an option for every taste and every budget.
One of the best things about lockdown was the way in which restaurants and shops adapted to delivering their products to customers. With many of us now working from home and some still needing to isolate, the option of getting food delivered has become a welcome change and many companies are able to offer the joys of afternoon tea brought straight to your door.
The first I tried was from Bradford Bakers, a family run bakers since 1924. Offering a wide selection of food hampers they had more than a few afternoon teas to choose from but I couldn’t resist the sparkling option. Each Afternoon Tea gift box arrives with the usual tea and scones with jam and clotted cream as well as Luxury Belgian Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and a 200ml bottle of Prosecco. You are able to choose your selection of cakes on their website and I opted for Victoria sponge, caramel shortbread and brownies and was certainly not disappointed. The chocolate covered strawberries were not something you often get with afternoon tea and make a nice change, a wonderful touch of luxury.
The next day (yes I really did have afternoon tea 6 days of the week!) I was sent a package by Kettle and Crumb a small business specialising in afternoon teas delivered nationwide. With traditional, vegetarian and vegan options they have made them accessible to everyone and are much more than just sandwiches and cakes. What I also really liked about the selection was that there is an option for ‘Afternoon tea for one’ but I will warn you that there is more than enough for two and this actually fed me for 2 days.
The freshly-made sandwiches have flavours such as roast chicken breast with tarragon mayonnaise and baby spinach on rye bread and there is also a selection of savouries such as brie and sundried tomato quiche and British pork and caramelised onion sausage rolls. The selection of cakes are each more delicious than the last and the carrot cake in particular is so moreish and moist I almost didn’t have room for the scones. I was genuinely impressed with this one and also appreciated the recyclable packaging.
I then hopped on a tram to Altrincham to Bistrot Pierre who had just added a Summer Afternoon Tea to their menu, available between 2.30pm and 5pm. The lovely staff asked for the kind of tea we wanted (I went for Earl Grey with a slice of lemon) then brought us a very drinkable glass of Veuve Devienne sparkling wine. The food was then brought on a beautifully presented stand and we tucked into mini baguettes filled with smoked salmon and cucumber, chicken and salad and egg and cress then onto some of my favorite cakes. A fresh vanilla cream mille feuille was my favorite but the chocolate eclair and Eton mess were just as delicious. And finally you just can’t go wrong with plenty of butter jam and cream slathered on top of a fruit scone and Bistrot Pierre certainly delivered just that.
There could be an argument made for whether the scone is even needed on an afternoon tea anymore, but one company that would help your decision is The Cornish Company specialising in providing the whole nation with the very best of Cornish produce, they sent me The Cream Tea for Two Hamper. Attention is given to every last detail, down to the box itself which states how to eat your cream tea (I can confirm the correct way is jam and then cream and I won’t be taking any questions at this time). It’s lovely to see such a love for where they live and a passion for local produce and the scones may be plain but they are the softest, butteriest most mouthwatering ones of all I tried that week. You also get a selection of Cornish teas and biscuits as well as the all important jam and THEN clotted cream.
You’d think that I’d had enough by now but no, I had to have one more and I was saving the most luxurious until last. I was sent a beautiful wicker basket full of treats from Dukes Hill which was more of an at home afternoon tea ingredients hamper than a ready made kit. Nevertheless, it’s Afternoon Tea Hamper is a wonderful treat, containing full sized pots of the finest raspberry jam and lemon curd, wafer thin Wiltshire ham, Oak smoked salmon, Scottish shortbread, a fruit loaf cake, a luxury tea selection and a huge slab of one of the best chocolate brownies I’ve ever eaten! The selection comes in a fabulous wicker basket with leather straps that you can easily carry to your local park or down by the sea. This was a real indulgence and would make the perfect gift for someone who loves the finer things in life.
I don’t know if it’s just me but I don’t feel as though it’s an afternoon tea without bubbles and so while I knew not every brand offered this as an option I made sure I had a bottle of something for each one I enjoyed at home. I was sent a bottle of English sparkling wine from Louis Pommery England the first English sparkling wine produced by a French Champagne House. The aromas of white fruit in this cuvée are perfectly balanced and lend themselves beautifully to an English Afternoon Tea. The crisp orchard apples and delicate gooseberry flavours of this classic English sparkling wine are the perfect tipple for Summer and this bottle went down very nicely with each and every meal I sampled.
Honestly I could go on, I’d happily go out and review another week’s worth of Afternoon teas because I feel it’s one of those things that feels special and a real treat. It’s a simple meal really, a few sandwiches and cakes, a couple of scones and a pot of tea. But just like Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, I think we should make it a regular habit.