What is Afternoon Tea? For starters, there is more to it than many might realise. Think not of it as simple lunch, but rather an elaborate affair of all things dainty and exquisite.

Its unique qualities extend to every aspect of its existence from history to attire to ingredients. If you’d like to find out more about this remarkable world, be sure to keep reading.

We have answered some of your frequently asked questions (FAQ) about “What is Afternoon Tea?” and everything it entails. Being prepared for such a venture will enable you to make the most of your experience. Ultimately, it will ensure that you have the most possible fun. So what are you waiting for? Start exploring today.

What is Afternoon Tea

What is Afternoon Tea?

So what is Afternoon Tea, exactly? This is a centuries-old meal consisting of a pot of Tea, sandwiches (usually cut delicately into ‘fingers’), sweet pastries, cakes, and scones with clotted cream and jam. Combined, these indulgent ingredients make for a match made in heaven.

When it comes to the beverage, in particular, one tends to expect traditional Black Tea. However, Earl Grey or even another type altogether can make for a suitable alternative.

An Afternoon Tea is notably different from a High Tea. The former is a social event that was once (but no longer) reserved for the ‘upper’ classes. The latter, on the other hand, first became popular among the working classes due to it being an affordable choice during the Industrial Revolution.

Historically, unlike its ‘classier’ counterpart, High Tea involved heavier foods such as meat pies and boiled potatoes. Its name, meanwhile, derives from the fact that families ate it at the table while Afternoon Tea (also known as ‘Low Tea’) was enjoyed in comfortable chairs or sofas. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter where you sit so long as you enjoy yourself. 

Who invented afternoon tea

Who Invented Afternoon Tea?

Was there a particular person who came up with the idea of an Afternoon Tea? Where did Afternoon Tea originate? As it turns out, it was the brainchild of Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. 

First created in 1840, the story goes that her grace, finding herself hungry at four o’clock in the afternoon, decided to have a ‘snack’. As such, she requested a tray of Tea, bread with butter, and cake.

Afternoon Tea quickly became associated with aristocracy. Not long after its ‘invention’, the Duchess began inviting wealthy friends and family to her events.

Women, in particular, wore long gowns, white gloves and fancy hats to these occasions. Not long after, it grew into a popular pastime across the country - one that indeed continues to this day.

What is a Traditional Afternoon Tea?

What is a Traditional Afternoon Tea?

This very much depends on your definition of “traditional”. Contrary to popular belief, and as you may have already noted, the Duchess initially had bread with butter rather than scones.

Indeed, scones only became a common feature of Afternoon Tea during the twentieth century. It’s nevertheless immensely difficult to imagine an Afternoon Tea without this delectable dessert treat. As such, we’ve decided to count it as ‘typical’ if not quite ‘traditional’.

So now the question begs: What is a typical Afternoon Tea menu? As mentioned above, one can expect a pot of Tea, finger sandwiches, sweet pastries and cakes. Additionally, there will undoubtedly be scones with clotted cream and jam on offer. 

What Time is Traditional Afternoon Tea?

What Time is Traditional Afternoon Tea?

When is Afternoon Tea served? Traditionally, as requested by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, it should arrive at one’s table at precisely four o’clock in the afternoon.

Her grace chose this time due to the fact that it sat comfortably between lunch and dinner. 

However, the times have changed. Now, Afternoon Tea can be whenever, and indeed whatever you like. The answer to “what is Afternoon Tea?” has evolved over its 170-year history. Notably, it has become a lunch (or dinner!) unto itself. 

How Long is Afternoon Tea?

How Long is Afternoon Tea?

This is dependant on where you go, whom you go with, and what kind of Afternoon Tea you choose. Most establishments suggest that one gives oneself at least an hour-and-a-half. Other venues recommend yet more time if the group in attendance is notably large.

Put simply, an Afternoon Tea can last however long you’d like it to - within reason! After all, it’s worth remembering that cafes, restaurants and hotels might have other customers in need of your table eventually!

Yet, for the most, you can take your time.

Who Has Afternoon Tea?

Who Has Afternoon Tea?

These days, anyone and everyone! While it’s true that during the 19th century an Afternoon Tea was a quintessentially upper-class affair, as of the 21st century, things have changed for the better.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an Earl, Baroness, milkman or delivery driver. Status is of no importance when hungry. Nor should it be particularly important in this day and age, anyway!

Although first created in Bedfordshire, this delightful meal has since gone on to become a popular pastime around the world. From England to Australia; Scotland to Albania, having an Afternoon Tea is an excellent choice. Wouldn’t you agree? 

Where to Have Afternoon Tea?

Where to Have Afternoon Tea? 

Rarely is it hard to find cafes, Tea shops or restaurants that offer Afternoon Tea. However, knowing which ones provide the best ingredients or offer the most welcoming atmosphere can be far more difficult.

If you find yourself spoilt for choice but still unable to decide, you’ve come to the right place. This Afternoon Tea Directory has all the answers.

Exploring our site, you will find Afternoon Tea locations organised by country, region, county, settlement and, of course, by specific venues. Popular choices include the South West of England, particularly Devon and Cornwall, and the South East, including Kent and Sussex.

Furthermore, Afternoon Tea in London offers nearly countless opportunities to indulge. Indeed, many places in the city have reimagined the concept of “what is Afternoon Tea?”.

How Much is Afternoon Tea in London?

How Much is Afternoon Tea in London? 

The prospect of buying anything in London can be enough to make many an eye water. Yet all is not lost. Using our Afternoon Tea Directory, you’ll find a plethora of deals enabling you to have a great day out for a fraction of the usual cost. With this in mind, it then becomes a question of “where”.

Having an Afternoon Tea in Covent Garden or an Afternoon Tea in Mayfair are particularly popular choices. In some of the more prosperous areas of London, however, one can expect the prices to increase somewhat.

Nevertheless, there is nothing quite like the experience of touring around the city before stopping for a nice spot of lunch. Priceless, surely?

What to Wear to an Afternoon Tea?

What to Wear to an Afternoon Tea?

In its early days, an Afternoon Tea was an unmistakably formal affair. Those who did not dress for the occasion were often shunned and ridiculed, thus making it a notably rare occurrence to wear anything but one’s best. It no real surprise that attendees wished to avoid looking foolish among friends. 

Nowadays, unless a venue states otherwise, there are no set rules for attire when it comes to Afternoon Tea. A ‘smart casual’ appearance is widely regarded as the most suitable choice of clothing. However, one can, within reason, opt to wear nearly anything.

What to Serve for Afternoon Tea

What to Serve for Afternoon Tea

What to include in an Afternoon Tea - specifically? When it comes to sandwiches, the most common options are cucumber, egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon with cream cheese, ham with mustard and coronation chicken.

Indeed, there is something for everyone regardless of how you define “what is Afternoon Tea?”.

In broad terms, the choice of scones becomes a question of “sweet or savoury?” So-called ‘Plain’ or fruit scones are often the preferred options when considering clotted cream and jam as accompaniments. However, cheesy scones have become increasingly popular in recent years.

What Beverages are Served with Afternoon Tea?

What Beverages are Served with Afternoon Tea?

It will come as little surprise to hear that Tea is the most popular choice of beverage when referring to “what is Afternoon Tea?”. There are four primary types: Black, Green, White and Oolong Tea. All come from the same plant known as Camellia sinensis. All contain varying amounts of caffeine. The difference between each one comes about through the processing of the leaf (but that’s another story).

Black Tea is undoubtedly the most common option while enjoying sandwiches, scones and cake. Yet if you’re looking to break free from convention, it might be worth considering other varieties. This includes Herbal or Fruit Tea, neither of which are technically “Tea” - but nevertheless taste great.

Despite the name “Tea” understandably conjuring images of one’s morning brew, there is sometimes the option of replacing this with alcohol. Champagne, Prosecco or even beer, gin and cocktails can make for a wonderful addition to your meal.

What Cakes do you have for Afternoon Tea?

What Cakes do you have for Afternoon Tea?

If your sweet tooth hasn’t been satisfied with the since-devoured scones, the next ‘course’ is cake. Types most associated with Afternoon Tea include chocolate, fruit, Battenberg or marbled coffee cake. Alternatively (or even additionally), you might find a bite-sized cupcake or two adorning your plate.

But that might not be all. Some Afternoon Tea venues provide tarts, too. From Bakewell to Yorkshire curd; egg custard to lemon, the possibilities appear to be endless. Following all of this, being contentedly full is all but a certainty.

How to Make Afternoon Tea?

How to Make Afternoon Tea?

Are you interested in “how do you do Afternoon Tea from home”? Do you, in other words, want to know how to host the perfect Afternoon Tea for friends, family and loved ones? So long as one boasts qualities of diligence and patience, such an event has the potential to be a tremendous success.

Let’s start at the beginning: How to set a table for Afternoon Tea. First off, having an elegant tablecloth adds to the prestigiousness of an Afternoon Tea. On top of this should be sugar and milk at the ready for your guests, as well as a variety of Tea types (English Breakfast Tea, Earl Grey, Chai, etc.). If you’re feeling particularly generous, why not crack open a bottle of fizz for good measure?

Now for food preparation. It’s worth assembling sandwiches just before the arrival of one’s guests to avoid sogginess. Scones are likewise best eaten on the same day they were made.

Those who consider themselves adventurous may even go as far as to make their own jam. When it comes to cakes, individual portions are key for the Afternoon Tea aesthetic. The rest is relatively self-explanatory - have fun!

How Many Calories in Afternoon Tea?

How Many Calories in Afternoon Tea?

It’s fair to say that having an Afternoon Tea is far from the healthiest option available when eating out. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, however. After all, some of us deserve a treat. If this applies to you, then a treat you shall have:



Afternoon Tea Item

Number of Calories

Black Tea + Semi-Skimmed Milk 15 calories
Two Egg Mayonnaise Sandwiches 186 calories
Two Smoked Salmon and Cheese Sandwiches 230 calories
Two Ham and Mustard Sandwiches 178 calories
Two Cucumber Sandwiches 108 calories
Two Coronation Chicken Sandwiches 318 calories
Scone, Clotted Cream and Jam 561 calories
Camomile Tea 2 calories
Battenberg Cake 390 calories
Chocolate Cake 371 calories
Fruit Cake 321 calories


Please note that the above statistics are estimates. In reality, it depends on where you go and what you eat as to the precise number of calories one ultimately consumes. Try not to feel too guilty, though, as having an Afternoon Tea isn’t something that happens every day!

Afternoon Tea at The Shard

How Much is Afternoon Tea at The Shard?

High on the list of places to have an Afternoon Tea in London is an Afternoon Tea at The Shard. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, this mesmerising structure is today considered the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

There are several restaurants and cafes within, many of which serve hearty brews accompanied by cakes, scones and sandwiches.

Depending on where you go, the price may change significantly. One particular establishment that offers excellent value for money is The Shangri-La hotel, an internationally-recognised hospitality company with an unparalleled reputation.

Here, particularly at its TĪNG restaurant, one can discover a deliciously local dining experience celebrating fresh ingredients sourced from suppliers in nearby Borough Market.


When it comes to “what is Afternoon Tea?”, the simple answer is “great”. This heavenly collection of delicious food and drink has much to offer.

It dates back to the 19th century, and over the course of nearly two hundred years, has never ceased to enthral and inspire. 

All that is left now is to go and enjoy one yourself! Browse through our  afternoon tea directory and find a place that suits your wants and needs. 

Author: Richard Smith

Partner at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company

Richard Smith is a Tea expert, entrepreneur, and owner of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Part of a family of renowned Tea planters dating back four generations, he was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, where he spent his childhood between Tea Estates in Assam and Darjeeling.

In the late 1970s, having accumulated years of knowledge in the industry, Mr Smith and his mother, Janet Smith, moved to Kent, South East England, to establish a Tea business in the village of Pluckley. Their early days of packing Tea Bags by hand from chests of 10,000 prompted the creation of the company’s flagship infusion known as Pluckley Tea. It remains our most popular product today.

Mr Smith, who studied economics at London Polytechnic, has since specialised in over 1,000 types of Loose Leaf Tea - in addition to around 70 varieties of Roast Coffee - from around the world. These are now available at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where everything is still packed by hand and fresh to order, not only to honour tradition but to ensure the utmost quality and consistency.