afternoon tea

Afternoon tea: most quintessential of English customs

Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs, is widely thought to have been introduced by Anna Russell (7th duchess of Bedford) c.1840. Evening meals had been shifted back to the fashionably later time of 8 o’clock, leaving a rather long time between lunch and dinner. The duchess, feeling understandably peckish in the afternoon, began inviting friends to enjoy tea and ‘a light refreshment’ in her rooms. Afternoon tea subsequently took off in a big way, becoming a fashionable social event.

Tea rooms became all the rage in the late 1800s, rapidly becoming the hottest place in town for meeting friends and sharing the latest gossip. This was not least because they were considered one of the few respectable places for ladies to meet without a chaperone.

With the birth of a ritual… ‘afternoon tea’; The fashion for displaying cakes at the table became an integral part of the experience. Tantalising the guest became a prerequisite and led to a continual demand for innovative ways to create food & beverage theatre. The power of delivering a unique and very personal afternoon tea experience gave birth to an industry. In Britain, the internationally iconic status of the ritual has been adopted by many top hotels, none more famous than the Ritz Hotel in London.

It’s incredible to think that today’s afternoon tea experiences, with such range and diversity, can be traced back centuries. Early cake stands have been found dating back to as early as 1620 in Britain, and appear in 17th century paintings. With afternoon tea becoming so popular, iconic tiered afternoon tea stands started to be used as dramatic centre-pieces with food stacked in successively smaller sized plates to create impressive pyramids filled with tasty bites.

“Shaped like a pyramid and typically stacked with three plates, or tiers, the tray was an ideal way to accommodate scones, savouries, and sweets simultaneously, giving guests an order in which the courses should be eaten. In the earliest years of the tea tray’s history, the top tier was reserved for scones, which were kept warm by a silver warming dome . [See our Elegance Tea Stand.] The second, or middle, plate held sweets like petits-fours, marzipan, and cakes. The bottom tier was the serving station for simple, crustless sandwiches. In general, guests served themselves from the bottom tier first and worked their way to the top.” writes author Amy Cates in Tea Time magazine.

Heritage has designed and manufactured a huge range of beautifully crafted 3 tier cake stands over the past 40 years. One of the most iconic pieces of silverware, the afternoon tea stand provides a dramatic centre-piece to the great British ritual of afternoon tea. Whether modern, minimalist, romantic or ornate, these striking tea stands have the capacity to titillate and excite any diner as they near the table, loaded with delicious treats!

Heritage is privileged to supply some of the top establishments with afternoon tea tableware including The Ritz, The Dorchester, Firmdale and many others. We are specialists in the manufacture of afternoon tea stands in silver plate and stainless steel. We also supply our stands with our own range of fine bone china and porcelain plates. We can also manufacture bespoke tea stands to your specification.

One of the newest iconic luxury hotels we are proud to work with is the Tamburlaine hotel in Cambridge. The Tamburlaine has a beautiful Garden Room where the food is delicious and the afternoon tea a delight. Tamburlaine were kind enough to mention us on their blog recently: They said of Heritage: “we get a lot of comments on is our absolutely stunning tableware. From plates, to cups and saucers, to cutlery and afternoon tea stands, our wonderful supplier, Heritage Collection, ensure that we have nothing but the best to suit our lovely guests.”

John Williams is Executive Chef at the Michelin-starred Ritz Hotel, home to one of the most iconic afternoon tea experiences in Britain. He was kind enough to talk to us about his long-standing working relationship with Heritage; “I’ve worked with Heritage for over 25 years… They are one of the most bespoke companies in country today making silverware. I’m very proud to be associated with Heritage. I know that I can come to them and discuss a design and they will produce the goods.

View John’s full testimonial about Heritage: