What is afternoon tea

04/05/21

What is afternoon tea?

In this article

What is in an afternoon tea?
What is high tea?
What is the difference between high tea and afternoon tea?
Why is afternoon tea so popular?
Who invented afternoon tea?
How many calories are in afternoon tea?
What to wear to afternoon tea?
What time is traditional afternoon tea?

What is afternoon tea? In its most basic form, it’s a light meal but let’s be honest, it is far more than that in practice! Dainty sandwiches with the crusts cut off, doilies lining the plates, silver platters, shining china cups, small cakes so pretty you don’t really want to eat them (except you do), and a high-end feel to the whole thing.

What’s not to like?

Traditionally, afternoon tea consists of three courses with savouries, sweets and tea served. Scones with jam and clotted cream are traditional features, but you can have various items on the menu and still create the perfect afternoon tea.

A teapot is a staple on the table, usually gleaming silver, and it’s steaming with delicious tea.

The presentation is what makes it so super-special. There’s a reason those stacked silver cake trays are so popular and it’s because they add a totally different feel to your afternoon and make you feel like you’re dining in Victorian or Elizabethan England, amongst the aristocracy. If you squint your eyes, you might even feel like you’re in Bridgerton!

For many people, an afternoon tea is the ultimate treat. Not only is it a great filler before dinner but it’s also an occasion in its own right.

This guide has been written by our talented Head Chef, and here at The Red Lion Hotel Salisbury we know a thing or two about afternoon tea. We sell the most famous afternoon tea in Salisbury after all!


What is in an afternoon tea?

Many people wonder what is included in afternoon tea but the truth is that it varies. The basics include sandwiches with the crusts cut off, scones with jam and clotted cream, a variety of small cakes, and a pot of tea. However, many menus also include several other items too, including small sausage rolls and other savouries.

Sandwich fillings are often cheese, pate, cucumber, or sometimes a light ham. You’ll usually find vegetarian or vegan options available, just remember to mention this when booking (these are available at seven days’ notice here at The Red Lion Hotel Salisbury).

Afternoon tea

What cakes do you have for afternoon tea? Again, it varies but they’re all delicious. To give you an idea, we’re talking about things like French Fancies, small sponges, and small pastries.

The idea is that afternoon tea shouldn’t be heavy, so whatever is served is going to be light and dainty, rather than heavy and filling. Everything is also bite-sized, so there’s no need for cutlery – you just grab and eat with your hands!

You might also find that there are a few preserves served with afternoon tea, including marmalade, jam (for the scones), and you might even get a herby butter for your savouries. It really depends on the menu.

Of course, the staple is the pot of tea. This is served in a china teapot and it’s steaming and delicious! Sugar and milk are included and you add them according to your taste.


What is high tea?

High tea is a much more substantial meal than an afternoon tea and traditionally it was served at a high table and chairs. Its origins date back to the 19th century and it became popular amongst the richer classes who still went to work in industry.

At this time, it was the men who went to work whilst the women stayed home and when the men returned, they would have tea alongside a larger meal. The tea was to calm and relax, whilst the food was to give strength after a long day at work.

The meal would traditionally be a stew or a hearty pie, with a steaming pot of tea alongside it. So, high tea is basically dinner, with a pot of tea beside it!

In the north of Britain, you may hear dinner being referred to as ‘tea’. This tradition actually came from the idea of high tea, when working class men and women would return home and want a substantial meal with a cup of tea to make them feel better. Some traditions stick!


What is the difference between high tea and afternoon tea?

What is high tea and what is afternoon tea? You can see how the two would be confused, basically because tea is involved either way! Basically, afternoon tea is light and high tea is substantial.

As explained earlier, high tea is a larger meal alongside a pot of tea, often served at a high table and chairs, denoting the ‘high’ in the title. However, afternoon tea isn’t substantial, that’s the main difference.

Afternoon tea includes small plates of light sandwiches, savouries, and small cakes, alongside the pot of tea. As you can see, the pot of tea is the only similarity between the two terms!

Afternoon tea


The popularity of afternoon tea has boomed over the last few years and the reasons are a little unclear. Perhaps it’s the presentation or the fact that it just feels sumptuous and a little special.

It’s not every day that you sit down to the little delicacies that are included in an afternoon tea, so doing so in a chilled out and quite high class atmosphere is a very different and opulent thing to do.

Maybe that’s why afternoon tea is so popular, but it could also be because most people just love cake and tea! The reasons vary from person to person, but one thing is for sure, we’re yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it!


Who invented afternoon tea?

If you’re wondering where afternoon tea originates from, you’ll be interested to know that it was actually invented by accident after the Seventh Duchess of Bedford became hungry in the 1840s!

The duchess was a little hungry during the middle of the afternoon, but because she had begun hosing her friends in society at this time of day, it wouldn’t be the done thing to sit and eat something substantial. To stop her feeling so ravenous, she looked towards small dishes of food, to tide her over until dinner time, at around 8pm.

The duchess played around with the idea a little; she tried sandwiches but didn’t like the idea of the crusts so she asked her staff to get rid of them. Of course, after she had eaten a sandwich she had a sweet craving, so she asked for a small cake to satisfy her sweet tooth. The pot of tea came into the equation because what is afternoon tea without a pot of tea?

Afternoon tea

The duchess was quite impressed with her new habit so she decided to tell her high society friends about it, who soon wanted to join in. From there, an afternoon snacking session became habit and afternoon tea was born.

Back in the day, afternoon tea was only enjoyed by the high society classes and wasn’t something that the working or lower classes would do. However, these days we find everyone enjoying afternoon tea, and why not!

After learning how did afternoon tea start, you can understand why it has that regal feel to it and why it feels so special too. It started because of royalty, and the high-end reputation of an afternoon tea is probably why it’s so in demand today – for a short while, you could be a duke or duchess enjoying a snack.


How many calories are in afternoon tea?

On average, there are around 600-900 calories in afternoon tea, but this amount will fluctuate depending upon what you eat and how much of it!

The number of calories is dictated by what is on the menu and we know that afternoon tea tends to include cake, cream and butter. What is afternoon tea without the cakes?! You can go for a smaller amount or you can cut out the cream and butter if you want to reduce calories but again, why lower your enjoyment?

Afternoon tea should be seen as a sumptuous treat and here at The Red Lion Hotel Salisbury, we believe that you can have your cake and eat it!

If you do want to watch your waistline whilst enjoying afternoon tea, simply watch the amount of sugar you put in your tea, avoid cream on your scone and eat more of the savouries than the sweets.

Do remember however that afternoon tea portions are pretty small and they’re adjusted according to the number of people on the booking. So you’re not going to consume that many calories even if you do enjoy your food!


What to wear to afternoon tea?

You can wear whatever you want to our afternoon tea – we’re not fussy!

Many people wonder what to wear for an afternoon tea, mainly because it has that regal reputation. However, there’s no need to hire a tux or a ballgown to sit and eat cake in our opinion. We simply want you to relax and enjoy your time.

You may wish to get a little dressed up and feel special as you enjoy your afternoon treat. That doesn’t mean going over the top, just something that makes you feel good. And let’s be honest, what is afternoon tea if it doesn’t make you feel good?!

Afternoon tea


What time is traditional afternoon tea?

So, what is afternoon tea time? Here at The Red Lion Hotel Salisbury, we serve our afternoon tea menu every day between 12pm and 5pm. All you need to do is book your place ahead of time and we’ll start preparing for your arrival.

What time is afternoon tea traditionally served? Historically, this is around 4pm. The reason is because when afternoon tea was invented by the duchess, dinner was traditionally served at 8pm.

Of course, that means there were quite a few hours between lunch and dinner, and hunger would set in during the mid-afternoon mark.

How long is afternoon tea? Traditionally, afternoon tea would last for up to two hours at a time, but there would be a lot of high society gossip going on too!

We’re in no rush and we want you to sit and chill out, enjoy the experience, and savour every delicious mouthful. So it’s as long as it takes you to enjoy the menu to your heart’s content!


Feeling peckish?

Now that you know what afternoon tea is, it’s time to find the perfect place to experience it.

For a truly unique afternoon out, what could be more fitting than visiting our 800 year old hotel, located right in the centre of the historical city of Salisbury? After all, history and tradition is what afternoon tea is all about, isn’t it?

Sit beside the cosy fireplace in our Victoria Lounge or dine alfresco and soak up the sun in our beautiful courtyard whilst enjoying your dainty sandwiches.

We’ll do everything we can to make you feel as special as the duchess who invented afternoon tea felt every single day of her royal life!

Afternoon tea

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