call me a tourist, but I can’t go to london and not go to tea. in fact, teatime has become one of my favorite rituals regardless of geographic location. why don’t we do this more in the US? high tea is liiiiit!
think about it — tea (the beverage) is already amazing on its own, but if that isn’t enough to get you excited, consider this: unlimited sandwiches and treats. yeah! LIKE BOTTOMLESS FRIES BUT FOR MORE THINGS. but wait, there’s more: taking an afternoon break to eat and drink tea and NOT work. seriously, bottomless food, several relaxing hot drinks, maybe some champagne no one’s judging, treats galore, and it all goes down at like 2pm on a tuesday. SIT DOWN, HAPPY HOUR.
and that’s just the thing, I’d wayyyy rather have a high tea afternoon than a happy hour. discounted deep-fried appetizers and fruity cocktails have their place, but I’d much rather snack on some smoked salmon sandos with a little cuppa jasmine green and not have a hangover at 9pm. just me?
back to tea. if you’re reading this, you’re potentially planning a nice jaunt over to london and hoping to schedule yourself a little afternoon of dressin’ classy and sticking your pinky out. yeah? my list isn’t long, but they’re three powerhouse options I think you’ll be equally obsessed with, including one absolute MUST that you can’t miss.
a few bits of advice and general thoughts if you’ve never done tea before…
- tea is actually a LOT of food. do not eat lunch right before teatime, and consider skipping dinner plans. I was painfully — and I mean painfully — full when I tried to eat every single thing on offer at tea. I get excited about bottomless treats.
- typically there are three segments of food service; depending on the place they’ll come out at different times. they’re finger sandwiches, scones (which come with jams and clotted cream), and desserts.
- booze is optional and it’s an add-on. you can get champagne and rosé champagne at most of the tea houses/restaurants/hotels. roughly 10-20 pounds more, which ain’t cheap.
- there are dress codes at many of these locations, so prepare to look sharp!
3. the ritz
If you’re in the mood for a swanky afternoon, you must stop by the ritz in mayfair, just a stone’s throw from the green park station. everything about the experience screams “I am
rich elegance and taste.”
I particularly loved this spot for a birthday celebration. they prepared a sweet little cake with a message of your choice (this is at an extra charge and you have to pre-arrange when you make the reservation) and when they bring the cake out, the pianist starts playing happy birthday. everyone at tea applauded when my mom received her 60th birthday cake at the ritz — definitely made her feel special, albeit maybe a little embarrassed, but she hammed it up nonetheless.
the tea was lovely, the service was nice, and the food was pretty darn good overall. the setting is pretty much unparalleled — did you see that entrance!? and I love love loved the live piano.
2. fortnum & mason
tea at fortnum’s is a classic london experience. with a gorgeous selection of teas, huge boutique, iconic servingware and printed teapots, and a curry chicken sandwich that I’m still thinking about two years later, it’s a “not-just-for-tourists” type of tea.
fortnum’s is just down the road from the ritz, between picadilly and green park stations. it’s an “18th century department store” (literally from 1707) that sells tea (as you may have guessed) and gourmet groceries. it’s a pretty quintessential stop on any london vacation.
at fortnum’s you’ll dine in the “diamond jubilee tea salon” which is honestly the most british thing I’ve ever heard. all the courses come out at once — sandwiches, scones, and ‘zerts — but you can ask for more of anything you’d like. like I said: FREE REFILLS. I’m so american.
one of the parts I love about the fortnum’s tea is that you can take the whole experience home with you, down to the china. if you’re a big souvenir person, a big tea person, or just completely smitten with the whole f&m experience, you can get the entire tea set they use in the “diamond jubilee tea salon” and bring it on home. they also have jars of the lemon curd and strawberry preserves, as well as (of course) the tea itself, and teacakes. want to make the sandwiches and scones? just grab the cookbook.
starts at £70 (prices have gone up since we visited!)
claridge’s is a bit north of the other two, but still in mayfair, just south of the bond street station. like the ritz, it’s a hotel.
IMHO, this is the holy grail of afternoon teas. the true gauntlet. takes the cake — or takes the teacake AMIRITE ok
so yes, it’s a good bit more expensive than the rest (straight up like $90) and you’re like, am I really gonna throw a benjamin down on some hot leaf water and desserts and my friend the answer is ABSOLUTELY.
FOR. FREAKING. STARTERS. the scones are on another level. truly the best scones I’ve ever eaten. they’re not only just sitting there at the top shelf of sconedom, enjoying the glory that is theirs, but they’re then taken to an even more majestic and celestial level thanks to the mariage frères marco polo jelly. the parisian tea house mariage frères makes a tropical tea jelly that is incomparable to anything I’ve had on this earth, and it was so good that I sought it out in paris and took home several jars of it. I went through one within a few weeks of being home. so this like, life-altering jam (never thought I’d type that phrase but here we are) and silky clotted cream on these mind-blowing scones. my brain couldn’t even take it. I was in a glass case of emotion. I ate until my skirt almost tore open. and I had literally JUST gotten it taken in. joke’s on me.
then comes the tea menu — they’ve got this exotic rare tea, which like now that I’m thinking on it might be like, a bunch of twigs but NEVERTHELESS I persisted and enjoyed it. listen. it’s called “malawi antler” and apparently only two places in the world serve it, one of which is said establishment. they say it’s “made from the shoots of the tea plant,” and like idk what that means but the stuff was GOOD.
“rather than being made from the leaves of the tea bush, this unspeakably rare tea is made only from the velvety stems of its finely plucked spring shoots. these ‘antlers’ wonderfully express the earth of malawi. In the same way that a wine has its terroir, a combination of factors give this single estate tea its unique flavours. only a few kilos of malawi antler can be produced each year. the tea is soft and sweet with rich lychee and apricot flavours.”— claridge’s menu (read this in a british accent for full effect)
so um yeah that was amazing, and it definitely took the experience over the top. also, we got to each have two different teas — the other locations only offer one type of tea per person. so on top of my like tree bark tea I got to try another kind of guava tea (I think) and it was lovely.
and as if all of this weren’t enough, I also thought the sandwiches were off the chain — for real best smoked salmon sandwiches I’ve ever had, and I don’t even really like smoked salmon sandwiches (but ate all of them on this visit). then to top it all off, the desserts included this almond passion fruit macaron that straight up made me see the face of an angel. I wept. I’m still thinking about it. am I allowed to say it was better than anything at ladurée?? unnnnnreal.
the ambiance is also stunning (like the other two, there’s a live piano performance during afternoon tea service), and I’m particularly fond of the minty-striped teaware. round all of that out with exquisite service — an unprompted birthday dessert/message for my mom (that was freeeee!) and a delightful server (who packed some goodies for us in a to-go bag) — and you’ve got a knocked-it-out-of-the-park afternoon tea. obviously, as you’ve deduced, this one is my favorite. I’m not subtle.
can you tell I’m obsessed? I miss london so much 😭… until the next trip I’ll be DIYing scones and drinking my fortnum’s tea and slathering myself in that mariage frères jelly I mean what??? OK BYE