Now that I am in Tuscany I am starting to miss a couple (or more) of lovely quintessentially British traditions that I truly think we should export on this side of the Channel. Afternoon tea is definitely one of those and I can’t understand why is not here – yet.
My first memory of afternoon tea is probably linked to the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde: it looked like they were stuffing their faces with cucumber sandwich on a daily basis. Though cucumber sandwich is definitely not my favorite sandwich, I’d happily accept it if it comes in an full afternoon tea package, possibly one of the most exquisite English rituals.
Afternoon tea was introduce in Britain in the early 1840s. More than a tea, it’s a meal composed of sandwiches (which are usually cut into ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes but there are many more variations. British are extremely proud of their afternoon tea rituals and hundreds of cafes, restaurants and hotel in the UK do offer this option almost daily. You can pay as little as 10£ pp up to 60£ pp (or more!). If you are in London, have a look at afternoontea.co.uk for some suggestions (and offers) of the best afternoon teas in town. If you want to combine a tour around London with an unusual afternoon tea and have a bit more budget on your side, try the BB Bakery: they serve a full afternoon tea on a double-decker bus (and many other options)…. it doesn’t get more British than this! Make sure to book well in advance since it fills up pretty quickly.
If you just can’t get a good excuse to fly over to London to have a proper one, why not make it at home? I had a couple of home-made ones last summer and they were a success. It’s not difficult (at all) and it brings people together. I would say it’s more a feminine thing (and a great way to celebrate baby showers, birthdays, hens do etc) but I am sure lots of men would find it good too, especially if you add a few consistent drinks to it. 😉
What you need
HOW TO SERVE IT: tiered cake stand, teapot, teacups, cutlery. If you are planning to serve cocktails, make sure you have the adequate glasses too.
FOOD: in my home country, we are pretty traditional as far as sandwiches are concerned but when I moved to the UK I got into another world made of yummy fillings, delicious dressing sand unusual combinations (at least for me!). As my (British) boyfriend always says: “There is a lot more beyond ham and cheese!”. And he’s right. My favorites: tuna filling (tuna, chopped tomato, gherkins, salad cream, salt/pepper/lemon), crab filling (crab meat, watercress, salt/pepper/lemon), chicken filling (shredded chicken breast, leaves, chopped tomato, salad cream).
Apart from sandwiches, quiches are always a safe bet since they are easy to prepare in advance and just need to be warmed through on the day. For some amazing and mouthwatering recipes, have a look at Infinite Belly: you will not be short of inspiration!
You will need to have some sweet stuff as well: scones and cream should be a must in any afternoon tea but any other small pastry or tea cakes – cut down in small pieces, sort of finger food – would do the job. The key is to keep it coloured and not boring: sprinkle some seasonal fruit and make it even more indulgent by adding small pots of hand whipped double cream to dip fresh chopped fruit or anything else.
TEA SELECTION: I’m not a fan of English Breakfast tea (I have not been converted after 3 years in the UK…) so I would go for any flavored tea or infusion; homemade ginger, lemongrass and honey or Moroccan tea with fresh mint would be my first choice.
SUMMER DRINKS: Since I moved to the UK, my favorite is by far PIMM’S.
I rarely ordered any at a pub/bar back in the UK, since I quickly learned they would taste nothing like the homemade ones: almost no fruit and almost no PIMM’S :-(. So make your own is always easier and safer: it’s refreshing, fruity and it screams summer! Go for the original recipe and you can’t get it wrong. Plenty of variations are allowed of course and I found that blueberry and blackberry work great too!
If you can’t find PIMM’S, it’s worth trying to replace it with APEROL (bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona flavour) or CAMPARI (definitely more bitter and more “herbie”), 2 strongholds in the Italian aperitivo and generally easier to find. It won’t be the same as PIMM’S but you will still have that refreshing flavour that will work perfectly on any spring/summer day.
If you prefer to go easy and not having to prepare cocktails (though that’s part of the fun), a good bottle of cold Prosecco always works!