Popular legend attributes the invention of sitting down for afternoon tea to Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford – an arch gossip and intimate of Queen Victoria – some time in the 1800s.
Two centuries on, in an era of fast food and app-assisted delivery, the opportunity to pause between lunch and dinner for a pot of tea and a light repast exercises an even greater appeal, and this ultra-British institution now flourishes all over the world, albeit with some local adjustments.
In Hong Kong, afternoon tea has long found favour in Hong Kong’s luxury hotels, while a ‘tea set’ is a prominent feature of workaday cafe menus. Adding to this culture, Fortnum & Mason (‘Grocers and Provision Merchants to HM The Queen’) is opening its first overseas emporium and restaurant in K11 Musea by the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui in November. If London’s Piccadilly premises of Fred’s – as the 312-year-old store is nicknamed – are any indication, we can expect delicate finger sandwiches, plump scones crying out to be slathered with jam and a 35-strong tea menu that includes Tregothnan, Kenyan Kangaita and three varietals of Earl Grey.
Both Devon and Cornwall claim to have invented the classic ‘cream tea’ – scones coated with southwest England’s celebrated clotted cream and fruit preserve. Either way, it’s a good idea to indulge in appropriate surrounds such as the dining room at Orestone Manor, a classic Georgian pile by the sea near Maidencombe. The full afternoon tea includes finger sandwiches and cakes (made with ingredients sourced just down the road) alongside fruit and herbal teas as well as blends from China and India.
Afternoon tea gets a Down Under makeover at Melbourne’s Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Dollops of fresh double cream replace clotted cream, Hank’s Triple Berry jam is the topping of choice and teas embrace indigenous ocker options such as lemon myrtle and ginger, and Earl Grey infused with gumbi gumbi, a native apricot.
In Mumbai, head to the Sea Lounge at The Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Options ranging from The Maharaja high tea to the Sea Lounge high tea buffet are crammed with local bites including a wide array of chaats (street food dishes) and farsan (savoury snacks), such as panipuri and aloo tikki. Naturally, there’s no shortage of teas: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri… the list goes on.
Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town is so popular it’s served throughout the day, with a sommelier on hand to recommend the perfect cuppa. Rather than scones, it’s roast beef finger sandwiches and melkterts – milk tarts – that are served in the lounge. Masterclasses, tastings and tea ceremonies can be arranged in advance.
Sink into a low-slung chair at Motif in the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo for a modern Japanese take on afternoon tea. Think delicate bites such as yuzu popcorn and mini wagyu burgers, though there’s plenty of sweet stuff too, like chocolate cake and mango pudding. Rail buffs should make a beeline for the Gastronomic Gallery, which overlooks the historic Tokyo Station.