As a week of celebration for one of the nation’s favourite pastimes gets under way, we look at where and how to enjoy a spot of tea with decadent sandwiches and an array of delicious cakes.
The quaint, elegant experience of afternoon tea is one I was first treated to for my 16th birthday.
I remember it well, picking my selection of teas (or coffee), biting into each perfectly uniformed sandwich, devouring the fluffy scone, and then delicately working my way through the tower of petite cakes which were works of art.
A tradition suited to all ages, it’s not unusual to see three generations get together over a spot of tea and delectable bites.
Afternoon Tea Week is a celebration of one of the nation’s favourite traditions. Taking place from today until Sunday, a range of businesses have signed up to take part in the event, including Malmaison and Ardoe House in Aberdeen, Varroch Learg in Ballater, Drumossie Hotel and Bunchrew House Hotel in Inverness, and Cuillin Hills Hotel on the Isle of Skye to name a few.
But what makes the ultimate afternoon tea?
Catherine Devaney who runs catering firm Harper & Lime has diversified her business during lockdown, offering bespoke afternoon tea experiences for individuals to enjoy.
Now also selling to Bowhouse in Fife, Catherine says her business has been introduced to a whole new audience, giving more people the chance to enjoy her new afternoon tea service.
She said: “I run a professional catering business and pre-Covid we were mainly catering for private events and had just started to double them from 50 to 100 people. Then lockdown came along and everything was cancelled. It was devastating. About 12 weeks ago I started offering afternoon teas and the demand has blown me away.
“I love afternoon tea and it’s something [where] you can put all the components together and present it beautifully in the same box. It can have a real wow factor to it. I wanted to do something that had that wow factor but could also be dropped at someone’s doorstep.
“A lot of people give it as a gift or a treat for themselves and there’s a wide target market for it. Older people love it as it is a classic and they love a perfect scone, while younger people enjoy putting it on cake stands and having a glass of fizz.”
To create the ultimate afternoon tea at home, Catherine insists there must be a few non-negotiable items that have to be present for the occasion, including her favourite, a perfectly-baked scone.
She said: “The scone is non-negotiable. You must have the perfect scone with the perfect rise. I get up at 4am on Saturdays to bake all my scones for that day. It needs to be served with fresh or clotted cream and a lovely jar of jam.
“You have to have finger sandwiches, too. To me it is a classic. They have to be two-thirds bread and one-third filling. We use the best-quality ingredients in ours including free-range eggs, smoked salmon from David Lowrie‘s in the East Neuk, dill from the garden, and smoked cheddar from Kintyre. They have got to be perfectly cut.
“For cakes, we have a handmade strawberry tart [for] which I bake the cases myself, filled with creme diplomat and fresh strawberries from Blacketyside, a coffee cream choux bun, a lemon drizzle cake with raspberries from Blacketyside and a gooey chocolate brownie. We have those four cakes, scones, four types of finger sandwiches, a handmade pork sausage roll and a feta and sundried tomato tart.
“It’s a feast and is like the ultimate selection box for grownups. There’s a real ceremony about it. Afternoon tea isn’t about just diving in, it’s about taking your time, working through the savouries, scones and then building up to the cakes. It should be luxurious and every cake should be similarly sized and a feast for the eyes.”
Afternoon tea on tour
In Edzell, The Glenesk Hotel hotel is also well-known for its afternoon tea experience and has launched a new initiative called Teas and Tours.
The idea is that guests can enjoy the four-star hotel’s afternoon tea while taking in some of the north-east’s visitor attractions from the comfort of a luxury, chauffeur-driven vehicle.
Owners Dylan and Alena Wren hope the experience will appeal to small groups of two or three people as a day or half-day out with a difference.
With pre-booked tours of castles, distilleries, or even a game of golf, the couple say the service will be run with full respect for and adherence to the Scottish Government’s Test, Trace, Isolate, Support strategy, adding that one pre-booked excursion will be available each day and a full thorough clean of the vehicle will take place between outings.
Dylan said: “We saw this is a great opportunity to offer something to support tourism in the north-east of Scotland.
“We are already open for afternoon tea, socially distanced dining and room bookings are looking healthy. However, we also wanted to be creative in our approach to the tourist industry reopening, and do something a little bit different for people who are spending their leisure time in our part of the world.”
It has just relaunched its own version which also includes limited-edition handmade teacakes – a nostalgic treat with a thin shiny chocolate shell, vanilla marshmallow, jam and a biscuit base
It found the most popular way to enjoy a teacake in Scotland is to eat the soft filling first and then the biscuit on the bottom, with 26% of those surveyed selecting this option.
Only 7% of Scots start with the biscuit first before the soft filling and the second most popular way is to eat it in large mouthfuls or to meticulously pick the chocolate off the top before starting on the rest. It found 35 to 54-year-olds are 10 times more likely to do this than 18 to 24-year-olds. While 10% nibble, 13% eat them in one mouthful.
For those diners ordering afternoon tea at the Queen’s Road-based venue, which is temporarily closed as a result of local lockdown in Aberdeen city centre, each guest will receive individual stands stacked with treats.
This new way of serving afternoon tea ensures that every guest doesn’t have to share cake stands with one another and reduces touch-points as much as possible.
Stephen Gow, general manager of The Chester Hotel, said: “Afternoon tea is such a sharing experience, with guests selecting their dainty treats from a central stand.
“However, this is not currently practical as we aim to have as few touch-points as possible. We have sourced individual stands, which also double up as elegant takeaway carriers meaning that each guest has their very own portions which do not require any sharing or touching of plates.
“We have adapted our afternoon tea items to fit onto these stands and the kitchen staff came up with the notion of individually crafted chocolate teacakes.”
Places to enjoy afternoon tea in Scotland…
Almondine – Aberdeen
One of Aberdeen’s top spots for afternoon tea, Almondine now offers collection and delivery which means you can enjoy the luxuries of the French-inspired cafe’s patisserie at home.
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Maryculter House – Aberdeenshire
As well as enjoying afternoon tea on the premises, Maryculter House is also offering afternoon tea to go. Featuring a selection of delicious savoury and sweet treats for just £15 per person, there’s plenty to enjoy.
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Tea Jenny’s – Falkirk
Creating an array of goodies and packing them all in one box, you’ll find all sorts of cakes and sweet treats included in Tea Jenny’s afternoon tea offering. There’s also a large variety of luxury cakes and bakes you can pick up from the venue, too.
For Cakes Sake – Dundee
Delivering straight to your door, For Cakes Sake boasts not just traditional afternoon tea experiences but also offers a range of different versions which are guaranteed to suit any occasion. You can also collect from her Dundee-based venue.
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Kingsmills Hotel – Inverness
The stunning Kingsmills Hotel offers an elegant white china experience. Featuring exquisite cakes and savouries, not to mention freshly baked scones served with Galloway strawberry jam and a selection of organic Dammann French teas and fair trade coffee, what’s not to love? The hotel also offers a vegan version, too.
Effie’s of Perth – Perth
Perth’s finest Victorian Tearoom, Effie’s of Perth serves up signature afternoon tea on antique silver cake stands. With tea or coffee of your choice served in Royal Albert China, the afternoon tea includes your choice of finger sandwich, a scone with clotted cream and homemade jam, and one of Effie’s traditional cakes.
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