Quintessentially British: What makes the perfect afternoon tea?

I have been living in London almost 24 years and as an Italian I have come to appreciate the most quintessentially British tradition of all: Afternoon Tea. 
What makes the perfect afternoon tea?
A traditional Afternoon Tea menu consists of quality teas, champagne, light cakes, scones with butter, jam and clotted cream as well as finger sandwiches. Traditional sandwich fillings are often cucumber, smoked salmon, tuna, coronation chicken or egg mayonnaise. They are always served with the crusts cut off. They are served on a three tier cake stand: the bottom tier holds the savoury food, the middle and the top tiers pastries and petits fours. On a special separate basket the scones are served hot.
Historically, it was the seventh Duchess of Bedford Anna, who in 1840 introduced the concept of afternoon tea. She felt a bit hungry mid-afternoon – in those times there was no lunch as such, only breakfast and dinner. At first, she had tea and light snacks in her bedroom only to be joined by friends. 
Now the tradition is established, fashionable and venues across Britain now offer luxury afternoon tea experiences. One of my favourite venues in London for this very British ‘ritual’ has to be the St Ermin’s Hotel.  
Not only the St. Ermin’s Hotel’s is today a luxury hotel but it has a very interesting history. It was built upon the site of a 15th century chapel dedicated to St. Ermin, it was converted into a hotel in 1899, then in 1940 Winston Churchill, held a historic meeting there and created a unit called SOE (Special Operations Executive) based at the hotel that carried out covert operations during WW2. SOE agents’ printed secret coded messages on pieces of silk, an original sample hangs in the Lobby, hunt it down and try to crack the code.
St. Ermin’s continues to play an important part in London’s history, as it is rumoured that a tunnel runs from underneath the grand staircase in the Lobby all the way to the houses of Westminster. In 1953 the Queen held her Coronation dinner here – I attended a special celebration of that a few years ago. Check it out here
Afternoon tea at the St Ermin’s hotel is exquisite and represents the perfect example of this quintessentially British tradition. This is why I have chosen as the case study. The decor and the beauty of the location and the food are integral part of the experience. At the end of the day, even the eye wants its part.
The teapots and cups are beautiful. The relaxed and stylish surroundings featuring ornate original Rococo plasterwork at the St. Ermin’s hotel contribute to make you feel at ease. 

All teas are served in cute pots that resemble Alice in Wonderland themes with freshly baked scones, clotted cream, homemade jam and award-winning teas from The Tea Makers of London. 

Afternoon Tea is available Tuesday-Sunday between 12 noon and 5pm. 

£34pp, £39pp with a glass of Champagne

Children have their own special seasonally themed Afternoon Tea menu which is available on request throughout the school holidays and every weekend (Must be booked in advance). 

Here’s a sample menu:

Freshly baked scones 
Plain & fruit scones with clotted cream and a selection of jams

Coffee & cranberry macaroon 

Passionfruit & lime mini eclair 
Citrus baba, Earl Grey tea mousse, apple jelly 
Chocolate & kalamansi delice 
Vanilla & blackberry mousse

Chicken, celery, mustard and dill 
Atlantic prawns, Marie Rose sauce, gem lettuce 
Smoked salmon, lemon, cream cheese and chives 
Honey roasted hamCheddar cheese and onion chutney
Egg mayonnaise with black truffle and cress

A selection of Tea Makers of London teas

To book view availability here.

Here’s a sample of a kids’ menu:

Wizards & witches afternoon tea

£22 per child

Sweet Treats

White chocolate and orange mousse

Milk chocolate witches’ hat with chocolate biscuit

Vanilla cupcake with buttercream icing


Fruit and plain buttermilk scones 

with clotted cream and homemade jam


Honey roast ham 

Cheddar cheese 

Tuna, sweetcorn and mayonnaise 

Glass of apple juice ‘tea’

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