/ Food & Drink

The cost of afternoon tea – high tea or highway robbery?

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?


As far as I can see, this is harmless and might generate trade from overseas visitors.

I can reject this as a silly waste of money. What concerns me more is escalating prices for essential goods and services.

Greg says:
9 April 2012

I don’t see how this is even a problem. Yes I know it is overpriced, yes I know the ingredients cost less than half the price, but its the experience that counts plus the quality of the cakes and delicacies that matter.

Furthermore, if people want to pay to have it, then they can have it. The market sets the rate and if too many people thought it was too expensive, then prices would fall. Afternoon Tea is an option after all, and one that appeals to a certain person. If they want to spend their money on it, that’s fine by me.


Sites like http://www.afternoontea.co.uk/ and Groupon often have 2 for 1 deals so you can pick up a (relative) bargain on them, although I doubt the Ritz will ever be there. You tend to get unlimited tea and when I’ve been in groups we never got through all the selection so they can be good value if you treat it as an afternoon out and cost less than an evening at the pub.


Market demands and dictates…. tea at the Ritz has been for long an
institution, for those who can afford it (as with everything thing else in
life), why not and quite obviously not intended for the average plebeian.

Isn’t The Lanesborough former BBC admin offices?


As long as the wealthy spend their money in The U.K., it benefits the rest of us. If they choose to spend lavishly on brown, flavoured hot water and all the paraphernalia associated with it, why should they not do so? Meanwhile those with more sense than money, can have a good laugh at their expense!


I have a good laugh at those who spend silly amounts of money at famous restaurants, though recognise that they probably raise standards in the sector.


I have to admit that I love a good afternoon tea. I recently treated my partner to tea at The Lanesborough and yes, my wallet was smarting afterwards. But we had a wonderful afternoon in a beautiful dining room with live piano music and the best service I’ve ever experienced. The food and drink was amazing and they’d clearly made an effort to put a ‘twist’ on the classic menu.

On the other hand, I had warm scones and tea in a cafe in Cornwall last year for less than a tenner that I will simply never forget! Personally, I see no harm in a lavish afternoon tea for those who want to indulge once in a while. As Greg said in the comments above, I think it’s the experience that counts.

Sylvia says:
10 April 2012

The actual cost is probably not as important as whether you feel you are getting value for money, and that should include the experience or ambience.
£8.50 for warm tea, (unlimited hot water but this was irrelevant as the poor tea leaf had given its all), two stale scones, cream and mediocre, runny jam barely sufficient for just one scone, a table barely big enough for the teapot and three tier cakestand, (why?) and a view of the loo (just the one, hommes and femmes!). Ghastly! The Secret Garden in Sandwich basic cream tea would have been over-priced at a fiver.

Amber says:
10 April 2012

Tea hasn’t always been a great leveller, when it first arrived in the 17th century it was a luxury commodity bought at great expense. Tea tasters also operated throughout the 19th century to provide the very best, and the first tea of the season was highly prized, leading to races between the great clippers. There’s also a common misconception that ‘high’ tea relates to upper class pursuits; hig