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Afternoon tea: timeless delight or expensive fad?

by Rajul on May 13, 2011

Afternoon tea is booming at luxury London hotels like The Lanesborough (commended by the Tea Guild in 2011): but is it worth its often steep price tag?

Afternoon tea is a quintessentially English tradition and it’s no surprise that London hotels do a roaring trade in it.  As of late however, its popularity has soared and according to the London Evening Standard, some hotels are now putting on six sittings of afternoon tea every day to keep up!

But what is the secret behind the success of this relatively expensive ritual?

A brief portrait of afternoon tea in London

As has been previously described on this blog, London hotel afternoon tea has a rich history.  When you pay for afternoon tea at one of the top London hotels, you’re not just paying for the tea – or even the exquisitely delicious cakes, pastries and finger sandwiches that will adorn your table.

You’re paying for an indulgent experience quite unlike any other…and for impeccable service by well-trained hospitality professionals.  And as our review of the sumptuous afternoon tea at The Langham uncovered, you’re effectively getting two meals (lunch and dinner!) for the price of one.

Check rates at the Langham Hotel

The above original and delicious sweet delights at The Langham are well worth the admission price – as is the opulent setting of the hotel’s Palm Court lounge

Afternoon tea then is as much about the location and atmosphere as the food – which is why the gorgeous London Art Deco hotels excel.

You also need not take afternoon tea in a top hotel: it can be enjoyed just as much in a museum, gallery, cafe or teashop.

As for the tea itself, the leading London hotels are constantly trying to outdo each other by offering everything from extremely rare blends sourced from exotically remote locations, to the finest traditional flavours.

The result is a fantastic array of choice for afternoon tea drinkers – without even mentioning the option of imbibing a glass of fine champagne.

When it comes to the sweet and savoury delights on offer meanwhile, some of the finest hotel pastry chefs are busy pulling out every trick in the book to tantalise your taste buds and satisfy your appetite.

Which London hotels serve the best afternoon teas?

If you’re looking for an expert opinion on the best afternoon tea, there can surely be no arguing with the judgement of the Tea Guild (part of the UK Tea Council).  Each year, its secretive tea experts visit venues around London, anonymously sampling the afternoon tea offerings of each.

They then judge the finest, based on their performance in 16 categories, including decor, tea flavour, staff attitude and knowledge of tea.

This year the Guild named Claridge’s afternoon tea as its recipient of the prestigious ‘Top London Afternoon Tea Award’.  The offering from the hotel in Mayfair was described by inspectors as, “a very enjoyable and relaxing tea experience in splendid surroundings.”   They were particularly impressed by the art deco ambience of the hotel’s venue – The Foyer – and by its wide selection of more than 30 teas from across the globe.

Check rates at Claridge’s

Afternoon tea at Claridge's is as much about the inspiring Art Deco surroundings as the tea itself Afternoon tea at Claridge’s is as much about the hotel’s inspiring Art Deco surroundings as the tea itself

But while Claridge’s scooped the top accolade, the Tea Guild awarded a further 16 London Hotels its prestigious Award of Excellence, which it describes as “the ‘Michelin Stars’ of the tea world.”

Judging by these awards it would seem that out of the many hotel groups operating in London, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection has truly nailed the concept of afternoon tea.  Three of the group’s luxury London hotels – the Milestone, the Montague on the Gardens and the Chesterfield Mayfair – received Awards of Excellence – more than any other hotel group.

Also commended were several of the “usual suspects”: ultra-deluxe London hotels that pull out all the stops such as previous “Top London Afternoon Tea” winners like The Langham and Brown’s Hotel as well as historic favourites like The Ritz, The Lanesborough and The Savoy.

Not surprisingly, the Royal Family’s favourite hotel The Goring (where the Middleton clan stayed before the Royal Wedding) also made the list.

The Goring’s afternoon tea is clearly fit for royalty

Check rates at the Goring Hotel

Here then is the full list of the top 17 hotels which the Tea Guild considers to be the best London hotels for afternoon tea:

Claridge’s (Top London Afternoon Tea Award winner for 2011)
Brown’s Hotel
Grosvenor House Park Room & Library
Sofitel London St James
The Athenaeum
The Chesterfield Mayfair
The Connaught
The Dorchester
The Goring
The Lanesborough
The Langham
The Milestone
The Montagu at Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill
The Montague on The Gardens
The Park Lane Hotel
The Savoy
The Ritz

How does one choose between them?  Each of the above hotels offers a very different experience in terms of food, atmosphere and price.

So in the second part of our ultimate guide to afternoon tea in London we’ll help you choose your ideal venue.  We’ll do so by sharing an in-depth analysis of the best London hotel afternoon teas to identify the ultimate top 5 (based on hard price data to determine “value for money”).

Click through for part two of our guide to the best London hotel afternoon teas.

Search for a London hotel – Book Now, Pay When you Stay

Photo credits: The Lanesborough Hotel, Claridge’s, Goring Hotel.

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Best London hotel afternoon teas listed | London Hotel News | Official daily news on London hotels |
May 14, 2011 at 6:12 am
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September 6, 2011 at 6:23 am
Review of afternoon tea at Wyndham Grand | London Hotel News | Official daily news on London hotels |
December 13, 2011 at 5:15 pm

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