The Ritz Restaurant

Michelin-starred dining

What Is Afternoon Tea & The Story Behind It

Discover our informative guide on all things Afternoon Tea, including the history, tea menu and what time afternoon tea is typically served.

Afternoon tea stand with Champagne

Afternoon Tea, one of Britain’s finest traditions, is truly one of life’s great pleasures. The journey towards the top of the tiered stand, from savoury to sweet, is a treat like no other. At The Ritz, we pride ourselves on serving the quintessential, English Afternoon Tea, which has been a pillar of The Ritz’s character since the hotel first opened its doors in 1906, and remains so to this day. A world of refined service and exquisite flavours awaits.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Today’s definition of Afternoon Tea has come a long way since its conception in the 1840s by the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell, a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria and a prominent member of London society. During a visit to the Duke of Rutland, she requested a light refreshment consisting of tea and cake or sandwiches to stave off ‘that sinking feeling’ between lunch and dinner. The ideal way to punctuate the afternoon, soon she started inviting friends to enjoy it with her. Given her influence, it didn’t take long before other ladies of society started to host their own tea parties and so, Afternoon Tea was born. As time went on, the custom became increasingly popular. Afternoon Tea transformed from a light, mid-afternoon snack to the grand ceremony it is today, consisting of finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, accompanied by tea and often a glass of Champagne.

Afternoon tea sandwiches and tea

What is on an Afternoon Tea menu?

The first joyous mouthful comes courtesy of the meticulously prepared finger sandwiches. A fine elevation from the sandwiches of every day, each kind is made with a different bread to complement the filling. Brioche, tomato, granary, malt, and sourdough all feature on the menu, each offering new, enticing textures and flavours to the one that came before. Guests can expect a multitude of generously filled, delicate sandwiches, from Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter and Egg Mayonnaise with Chopped Shallots and Watercress to Cucumber with Cream Cheese, Dill and Mint and Chicken with Tarragon Creamed Mayonnaise. It’s difficult to know where to begin.

Guests may wonder, just how many sandwiches are there per person for Afternoon Tea? At The Ritz, it is our pleasure to replenish sandwiches on request, meaning guests certainly won’t be going home hungry.

A plate of scones

Soon enough one of our charming waiters will arrive at the table with a plate of warm scones, fresh from the oven. The nostalgic scent of plain and fruited scones floats through the air, inviting guests to taste. Served alongside rich Cornish clotted cream and a delightfully balanced strawberry preserve, there’s no more British a delicacy than this.

A plate of afternoon tea pastries

Finishing with grace, just the Afternoon Tea pastries and cakes remain. The skilled Ritz Pastry Chefs continuously change these exquisitely decorated and flavoured pastries according to the seasons. In the summer months, guests are likely to find a Petit Gateau of Strawberry with Vanilla Chantilly, whereas guests enjoying our Christmas Afternoon Tea may well discover a Spiced Pear Mousse with White Chocolate. Additionally, vegetarian, and vegan diners needn’t worry, our Chefs attentively cater for any dietary requirements.

And to drink?

Pouting milk into a cup of tea

The afternoon tea menu is seamlessly accompanied by an expertly brewed cup of loose-leaf tea. When the tradition arose in Victorian times, tea was an expensive commodity and therefore exclusively reserved for the upper class. Today however, tea is the nation’s favourite drink. The British sip their way through over 100 million cups each day. But there’s not a tea bag in sight at The Ritz, as we are the only hotel in the UK to have a certified Tea Master. He travels around the world to various tea plantations, sourcing our wonderful loose-leaf teas, to create our tea menu featuring 18 different varieties. Our Tea Master blends three of the teas on the menu in-house, including The Ritz Royal English tea, but the recipe is our secret…

The final touch for an Afternoon Tea celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or simply a Wednesday, is of course, a chilled glass of Barons de Rothschild ‘Réserve Ritz’ Champagne. Cheers!

Afternoon tea on a table

What time is Afternoon Tea?

As the name suggests, typically Afternoon Tea is served in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. However, at The Ritz, we have five sittings a day, at 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 5:30pm and 7:30pm, meaning guests can take afternoon tea whenever they desire, be it morning, noon, or night.

A table set for afternoon tea

The Duchess of Bedford may not have realised exactly what she was creating when she had a hankering for tea and cake one afternoon almost 200 years ago. But we are glad she did and long may this sophisticated tradition continue.

THE RITZ RESTAURANT

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150 PICCADILLY, LONDON W1J 9BR
TELEPHONE: +44 (0) 20 7493 8181

THE RITZ HOTEL (LONDON) LTD
REGISTERED IN ENGLAND NO.64203
VAT REGISTRATION 773 8638 79

150 PICCADILLY, LONDON W1J 9BR
TELEPHONE: +44 (0) 20 7493 8181

THE RITZ HOTEL (LONDON) LTD
REGISTERED IN ENGLAND NO.64203
VAT REGISTRATION 773 8638 79

150 PICCADILLY, LONDON W1J 9BR
TELEPHONE: +44 (0) 20 7493 8181

THE RITZ HOTEL (LONDON) LTD
REGISTERED IN ENGLAND NO.64203 VAT
REGISTRATION 773 8638 79

THE RITZ HOTEL (LONDON) LTD
REGISTERED IN ENGLAND NO.64203
VAT REGISTRATION 773 8638 79