Recently, there’s been a huge surge in the popularity of afternoon tea in the UK. But top of the range teas can now cost up to £85 a person in some London hotels…
Can the swanky surroundings and silver service really justify such an enormous mark-up on the price of a cuppa and a few cakes?
The British cup of tea has always been a great leveller, enjoyed with equal gusto up and down the country, and by everyone from builders to barristers.
But put the words ‘high’ or ‘afternoon’ before tea and it becomes a completely different concept. With its delicate pastries, silver platters and cucumber sandwiches, tea becomes the preserve of the posh. And it’s served up with an equally posh price-tag.
Tea pricing has scone mad
Winners of the 2012 Tea Guild Awards, announced last week, include Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa in Surrey, where teas range from £28 to £45, and Betty’s Tea Rooms in Northallerton, Yorkshire, where an afternoon tea will set you back up to £32.95.
But it’s the London hotels that really take the biscuit, or even the hand-crafted Jubilee scone with Somerset clotted cream. Afternoon teas at the sought-after Ritz, where it’s advisable to book months in advance, start at £42, rising to £64 if you fancy a little fizz with your tea.
And the prize for most expensive tea in London? Step forward The Lanesborough, which offers an £85 afternoon tea, albeit accompanied by a glass of Prestige Krug Champagne.
Are luxury teas superior to the supermarket?
Now I understand you’re not just paying for the tea; it’s all about the experience, the historic setting, the choice of 200 types of tea, the classically trained pianist in the corner, the expert advice of the tea sommelier and the chef’s artistry with choux pastry. And someone’s got to polish each silver teaspoon every time it’s used…
But at these prices, it’s hard not to start wondering how much the constituent ingredients would cost you in a supermarket – £3? £5? Surely not more than a tenner? And it’s then that your cup of oak-smoked Earl Grey could start to leave a bitter taste.
Especially when you consider that afternoon tea is such big business. And numbers are expected to rise during the Diamond Jubilee and Olympics. London hotels are reportedly offering up to six sittings a day, just to keep up with demand. So do they really need to charge such exorbitant prices if they’re going to get that much business?
Do you think that afternoon tea is an overpriced indulgence? Or is it an elite experience that’s actually fairly good value for a rare teatime treat or to celebrate a special occasion?