The complete how-to guide to afternoon tea

This is the complete how-to guide to afternoon tea for the alien in Britain. What is it, how to indulge and where to go for the best experience?

Let’s be clear. An ‘afternoon tea’ is not just a cup of tea. It’s an experience, a quintessential British habit that you should indulge in at least once in your life.

Immerse yourself in British Culture with afternoon tea

Even though one might be forgiven for thinking that ‘afternoon tea’ consists of soggy baby snacks. Or otherwise known as crustless white sandwiches – supplemented with sweet pastries, dry cake, jam, cream and much too dark tea with milk.

But no. Afternoon tea is happiness on a plate. And with a plate, I mean an étagère of at least three layers.

afternoon tea

Sandwiches and tarts

The afternoon tea is a mini-meal. Although not so minimal in calories. It is a more mini concept. Tea starts with delicate sandwiches topped with cucumber, salmon, mayonnaise, cream cheese and egg, and petite tarts.

Scones with cream and jam

As the icing on the tea cake, there are scones, a mini cake shaped like a muffin, served with cream and jam. Before you indulge, cut the scone in half. Then the million-dollar question is: do you spread cream or jam on the scone first? In England, the discussion about this can get heated.

Understandably, it is at least as controversial a question as the way to hang toilet paper. Obviously, the correct way to hang toilet paper is over, i.e. with the loose end draped over the top.

Right, back to tea.

Serve with the only proper tea

With afternoon tea, there is tea, of course. Not from a bag, the horror. No, this divine drink comes as loose tea in a preheated pot, sheltered under a flowery crocheted cosy. Which, according to Billy Connolly, should always be tried on when alone in a room.

“Never trust a man who doesn’t try it on when left alone in a room with a tea cosy.”


The tea originates either from India or Ceylon, black, naturally. God forbid modern frivolities like green or ginger tea would be served. Such blasphemies are best left to continentals.

The luxury version of afternoon tea

A would-be lord or lady would want the luxurious version of afternoon tea. Preferably served with a glass of bubbly and fresh strawberries.

Tea and whisky, are a fine combination

Did you know English whisky is a thing? And it has been for quite a while. Find out more about English whisky.


What is the difference between an afternoon and a high tea?

Overseas, high tea is often confused with afternoon tea.


So pub quiz enthusiasts, here’s the thing:

The concept of high tea arose around 1800, among working-class and middle-class families, as an alternative to evening meals. Afternoon tea is a nice bite. However, high tea consists of more substantial dishes, such as cold cuts, Shepherd’s pie, potatoes, fish dishes and white beans in tomato sauce.

Thus, a typical question in a British family is:

“What’s for tea tonight?”

Unfortunately, the answer too often is (soggy) fish and chips with vinegar or baked beans and sausages. Other typical British ‘delicacies’. Also known as an acquired taste.

Thanks, but no, thanks.

To immerse myself in British culture, I happily stick to afternoon tea. Preferably accompanied by the king of all puddings, sticky toffee.

Madingley Hall Cambridge

Afternoon tea in Cambridge

And if you do go for a luxurious afternoon tea, visit a beautiful location, such as a country house or a stately hotel. In Cambridge, it’s at Madingley Hall. If you want great views of the city centre, visit the upstairs restaurant of the Varsity Hotel or for a backdrop of Chesterfields, The Fellows House.

Magical Manchester, the city of bees

Magical Manchester, the city of bees

Manchester, a city in the northwest of England, has many facades. Sparkling, edgy, modern and Victorian. Historic buildings and skyscrapers stand side by side whilst bleak suburbs surround the lively town centre. The nearby Peak District and Lake District only add to its appeal.

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