As saucer-eyed as Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I gobbled up my first afternoon tea — as a child with my parents in tow — at a manor house hotel in the Cotswolds. The painstaking ritual so deftly performed by a be-aproned expert meant white linen-sheathed tables, clinking china cups, silver spoons, Blue Willow teapots, aromatic Darjeeling tea spooned from vintage-looking tins into infusers — and of course a tower of finger sandwiches, quickly followed by plates of fussy pastries, scones, and clotted cream. It was the latter that would change my life because after clotted cream nothing can ever be the same again. Know this: In life there are simply two phases: before clotted cream and after. Thick, unashamed smears of clotted cream on a scone (preferably current) aside, afternoon tea itself is the true star for a snack-y meal in fancy digs. A tradition that hails from the United Kingdom, afternoon tea was legendarily launched when Queen Victoria’s dear friend, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford and a hungry socialite, sought an elegant nibble between meals. Today, heartier, still posh, always satisfying, the custom continues.

Not to be confused with high tea which was more of a supper taken at the kitchen table for working class families, afternoon tea, generally noshed between 2 and 4 pm, may be best when offered in a lavish hotel lobby. These days, it sometimes includes a glass of bubbly or two. Read on to discover some of our favorite spots to sip tea and indulge. Don’t forget the clotted cream. 

The Dorchester, London

promenade at the dorchester London
Courtesy, The Dorchester

Londoners don’t agree on the best afternoon tea location. Poor souls — they have too many choices. But we’re fans of The Dorchester, a bedazzling social hub ever packed with sparkling glitterati — and the only Liberace piano in London. Book a room so you can soak in the deepest tubs after you gobble up your luscious tea, a fairytale spread conjured up by multiple award-winning chef Michael Kwan. A symphony of pink set up in the see-and-be-seen Promenade (designed by the indefatigable Pierre-Yves Rochon), the unequaled afternoon tea includes scrumptious pastries, perfect scones, decadent cakes, and glasses of bubbly. 

Hôtel Swexan, Dallas

afternoon tea being poured at hôtel swexan, dallas
Courtesy, Hôtel Swexan

For some, Dallas evokes big hats, tall buildings, and barbecue. Never fear, Texans know how to tea. At Dallas’ newest hotel, swanky Hôtel Swexan, a glamorous gem in the 19 city-block-long Harwood District, tea takes on a distinctly Euro-Tex quality as the hotel founders celebrate their Swiss-Texan family heritage. Held Saturdays and Sundays in Lèonie, the property’s jewel box eatery on the 20th floor, the repast includes seasonal scones, sandwiches, specialty sweets, and loose-leaf tea with a view. Love fashion? Once a month Hôtel Swexan will host a Love Shack Fancy afternoon tea pop-up which includes the afternoon tea (but with a Love Shack Fancy co-branded menu, florals, and table settings), plus a gift card to shop at the pop-up on property. 

Wharekauhau Country Estate, New Zealand

afternoon tea is a specialty at new zealand's wharekauhau country estate
Courtesy, Wharekauhau Country Estate

At this verdant sheep farm and Relais & Chateaux hideaway in Wellington, New Zealand, you’ll earn your canapes and cucumber sandwiches after an active morning cycling the Pacific coastline and challenging your partner’s game of tennis, croquet, or petanque. Wharekauhau Country Estate — set in the stunning foothills of the Remutka mountain range among the clifftops of Palliser Bay— transports guests peerlessly to past times with a glorious tea time on the first Sunday of every month (March to December). Kicked off with a glass of Billecart Salmon Champagne, the soiree takes place by the fireplace for a romantic touch. 

Baccarat Hotel New York

elaborate afternoon tea at baccarat hotel new york
Courtesy, Baccarat New York

Just being inside the gleaming, eye-catching Baccarat Hotel New York feeds the senses. Splendorous from every angle, the sublime urban haven transports visitors to a sophisticated liminal space where opulence reigns. In keeping with that motif, the hotel delivers an afternoon tea that recalls the illustrious crystal brand’s original raison d’etre: to create masterpieces for royal households. Guests can choose from five, palace-worthy afternoon tea menus in the hotel’s stunning Grand Salon daily, each inventive and referencing noble pursuits. The Prince of Wales imagines an English Tea at Windsor serving goodies such as foie gras macaron, sauternes gelee, warm lobster roll, and house-made scones with Devonshire cream and seasonal confiture. For epicureans, The King Louis XV pays homage to life at Versailles with an added caviar course. The Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco celebrates the actress-turned royal with elegant classics from  sacher torte to macaroon financiers. Children, always welcome, can order the Le Petit Prince that delights them with bite-sized child pleasers like pigs in a blanket, chicken waffles, and chocolate chip cookies. For Vegans, the Queen Isabella of Spain sates with delicacies as unique as artichoke toast and black sesame matcha cake. Note: a gluten-free tea can also be arranged with advanced notice.

The Peninsula Beverly Hills

the peninsula beverly hlls afternoon tea is steeped in tradition
Courtesy, The Peninsula Beverly Hills

Play silver screen siren at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, an impeccable hotel awash in traditions, drama, and sublime pampering. Ideally you will have arrived by your courtesy Rolls Royce — no big deal — then checked into a sumptuous suite. You might have had a swim in the hotel’s over-the-top rooftop pool, then dried off and dressed up to appear in The Living Room, a den of opulence worthy of this grand dame’s daily afternoon tea. With free flowing Laurent-Perrier Champagne, exotic teas, and an irresistible presentation of sweet and savory pleasures, the tea ceremony satisfies on every level. Those celebrating a special occasion should opt for the Royal Tea, which includes a classic: the Peninsula Page Boy Cap Cake, (wrapped to take home), modeled after the white pillbox caps worn by The Peninsula’s seminal pageboys.

The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville

afternoon tea served southern style at nashville's hermitage hotel
Courtesy, The Hermitage Hotel

For afternoon tea with a southern accent, look no further than Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. The venerated hotel, home to Nashville native Reese Witherspoon’ s fashion brand flagship Draper James, does an afternoon tea service named “Spillin’ Tea with Draper James.” Inspired by recipes from Witherspoon’s cookbook, Whiskey in a Teacup, the menu comprises tarts, scones, toothsome tea sandwiches, desserts, and . . . Whiskey in a Teacup, a nod to The Hermitage’s notorious Prohibition-era “secret.”  As the piece-de-resistance, the tablescapes feature “The Hermitage Ditsy Floral,” custom designed for the hotel by Draper James. 

Deer Path Inn, Lake Forest, Illinois

afternoon tea is a favorite at deer path inn in lake forest
Courtesy, Deer Path Inn

Anglophiles have come in droves since 1925 to enjoy the English elements of this Tudor-style retreat in Lake Forest, just 35 miles north of Chicago. Completely redone to enwrap guests in casual luxury,  The Deer Path Inn takes tea service so seriously it offers a menu created in collaboration with Malcom Ferris-Lay, an English Master of Tea, whose  family has been in the tea trade since 1842.  Settle into the cosseting English Room or fragrant garden to delve into a matchless afternoon tea. Expect a range of tea sandwiches, petit fours, and tartelettes, accompanied by a variety of loose-leaf tea. Staying the night? Consider the hotel’s new wellness package: A Good Book & Spot of Tea, which features a surprise read from a local bookstore, and a bedtime tea service complete with lavender mocktail. 

Feature image, courtesy of The Hermitage Hotel.

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