What is a Traditional Afternoon Tea? | All You Need to Know

Written 7th January 2022

What is a traditional afternoon tea?


Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British tradition, enjoyed by many people for many different reasons.


This week, we’re exploring the concept and history of afternoon tea:

Traditional afternoon tea at Billesley Manor

What is a Traditional Afternoon Tea?

Created by accident in the 1840s, afternoon tea is now a British tradition. The Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, was visiting the 5th Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle. In the mid-afternoon, she complained of hunger pangs.


In those days, lunch was a light meal served at midday, with dinner then served between 7 pm and8.30 pm, leaving a considerable amount of time with no food. Anna requested a tray of sandwiches, cakes and tea in her room in the mid-afternoon to quell her hunger, and the tradition of afternoon tea was born.


The idea soon garnered popularity, with many using it to showcase their wealth. Women would often dine in the garden for all to see, with their best silverware and delicate linens.


How Has Afternoon Tea Evolved?

Back then, the men were out working until late, and so the women would meet for afternoon tea to keep themselves going until dinner time.


As we’ve moved through the years, working hours have changed, and we have more access to quick and easy snacks. As a result, the afternoon tea has become more of an occasional treat rather than a daily feast.


Afternoon tea is something of a tradition though, and many now indulge in it for celebratory occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.


Many cafes, restaurants and hotels offer traditional afternoon teas, and some add a twist to make it unique to them.


Though traditionally served with tea, the decadent treat is now often offered with a glass of bubbles for a more luxurious experience.

Our stunning location for afternoon tea

What is a Traditional Afternoon Tea?: The Menu

Afternoon tea usually consists of 3 tiered layers. Each layer includes a selection of bite-sized sweet and savoury snacks for guests to enjoy alongside their chosen drink.


The bottom layer usually consists of a selection of finger sandwiches. Traditionally, the fillings are ham, cream cheese with cucumber, and smoked salmon. There may also be other savoury bites such as miniature pies, tarts, or pastries.


The middle layer then has freshly baked scones, served with a generous helping of clotted cream and jam.


Finally, the top tier comprises a selection of mini sweet treats such as cakes, mousses and chocolates.


Traditional Afternoon Tea at Billesley Manor

Our stunning hotel offers a beautiful backdrop for you to come and enjoy a traditional afternoon tea.


You can sink into our plush sofas in our Great Hall Bar, or opt for our more formal Stuart restaurant. Both feature original 16th-century oak panelling, historic paintings and grand chandeliers that will give your experience a regal feel. The rooms also boast roaring fireplaces; perfect if you’re dining with us in the winter months.


During the warmer months, you can choose to dine on our terrace, where you can enjoy your traditional afternoon tea against the backdrop of our stunning gardens.

Traditional afternoon tea outside

To book your traditional afternoon tea, please contact a member of our team.


Alternatively, why not read our previous blog for some inspiration on easy Christmas baking ideas