Afternoon Tea

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Kate Ryan,

It is fair to say that Ireland has fully embraced the Afternoon Tea. Once the preserve of the Victorian aristocracy, now anyone with a few Euro’s in their pocket can take time out and surround themselves with a little touch of luxury. We are definitely worth it, after all!

Afternoon Tea has its origins in a genteel woman, Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford. The Duchess decreed that a light Afternoon Tea would be the perfect thing to appease her grumbling tummy at around four in the afternoon. Anna was a close friend of Queen Victoria and an influential socialite in London high society. Dinner was served in the Duchesses house “fashionably late”, at around 8pm, and the long period between lunch and dinner was simply intolerable. And so the Afternoon Tea was born, originally as just a light bite with a cup of refreshing tea but its popularity grew quickly in the grand houses of the wealthy. It became a social event amongst the well to do classes; invitations to take tea would be issued to friends and acquaintances, guests and hosts alike would dress for tea replete with feather endowed hats and ornate overcoats. In fine weather, Afternoon Tea would be taken outside and the men of the household were encouraged to join the ladies in conversation.

At first, the reprieve in one’s mid-afternoon hunger would be no more than some freshly brewed tea served in china cups with a small savoury and sweet bite. But as the popularity of this afternoon activity took hold, so did it become increasingly more lavish in its accoutrements. In Ireland, the Afternoon Tea has found a new audience and a new popularity once again regaining its position as a social event to be looked forward to and an ideal opportunity to spend time with friends and family, or to celebrate a special occasion.

What Make a Perfect Afternoon Tea?

The modern day afternoon tea consists of four elements:

The sandwiches must be dainty, and the popular triumvirate is: Cucumber on Granary, Smoked Salmon on Brown and Egg Salad on White – crusts off, naturally, either open (one slice) or closed (between two slices). These are the basic principles, but the Afternoon Tea is supremely adaptable, and we have certainly taken that adaptability to our hearts! Adding champagne and prosecco creates a Sparkling Afternoon Tea, whereas the rise in the popularity of Gin has given rise to the G & Tea: afternoon tea served with miniature china teapots filled with a variety of Gin & Tonic concoctions complete with fancy garnishes.

And in an ironic turn of events, a Gentleman’s Tea has sprung forth, offering a meatier and heavier selection of bites. Pushing the stereotype to its brink, it can include tasters of Craft Beer or Whiskey – one assumes before retiring to the smoking room for a cigar and brandy…

More and more establishments also offer Vegetarian and Vegan Afternoon Tea options, eschewing the rich butter and cream of the traditional for the avocado and raw cacao chocolate cakes of modernity – an idea I personally like in spite of being a contented carnivore.

Even children are catered for! On the rise are a number of beautiful venues offering a Children’s Afternoon Tea with all the same sophisticated trappings tailored to a pallet of flavours more suited to younger tastes and textures; the delightful alternative for a child’s birthday party perhaps? There are so many places offering Afternoon Tea now in Ireland, each adding a touch of luxury and uniqueness to make their stand out from the crowd. As much as I would love to name drop, there are just too many to mention all catering to different budgets.

Most hotels now offer an Afternoon Tea and you don’t even have to be a guest to take advantage of it. The more sophisticated the venue, the higher the price tag. The Lord & Lady Ardilaun Traditional Afternoon Tea at the spectacular Ashford Castle is €55 pp – really go for it and add a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon for €390! A good little resource (but by all means not complete) is where they showcase a range of Afternoon Teas from just €19 per person.

But, unlike our Victorian trendsetters, our modern version of Afternoon Tea isn’t meant to be an everyday occurrence, sitting in the “treat” category and costing as much as an evening meal out. With that in mind, my modus operandi when it comes to a spot of tea and cake is to set my sights high! I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to afford to ever stay in Ashford Castle (future potential lotto winnings or mysterious benefactor aside), but I could splurge on their Afternoon Tea. That way, I’ll get to dress up real fancy and spend an afternoon enjoying the Castle and its gardens for a fraction of the price!

Afternoon Tea is a good idea anytime, dispensing just enough escapism for some much needed me-time to recharge my flattened out batteries.

Of course, a pretty vintage afternoon tea is popular for kicking off a Hen Weekend, (possibly a Stag Weekend too maybe, with a Gentleman’s Tea); the perfect birthday celebration at any age or the ideal way for some quality catch up time with friends. My perfect Afternoon Tea inspiration? It’s got to be a Mad Hatters Tea Party: magical, fantastical and completely bonkers.