As you explore the time-honoured tradition of afternoon tea, you’ll discover an experience that evokes feelings of elegance and leisure. Afternoon tea originated in Britain, with its roots in the 1840s. At the time, the Duchess of Bedford found herself hungry in the afternoon and started taking tea and snacks. This custom caught on, and afternoon tea became a social event, especially among the aristocracy and upper classes.
Today, afternoon tea has become popular around the world. An afternoon tea service typically consists of miniature sandwiches, scones, and pastries accompanied by premium loose-leaf tea. The tea is served in an ornate set, complete with a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, and cups and saucers for each guest. The ambience of afternoon tea is one of sophistication and tranquillity. If you want to add a touch of refinement and tradition to your day or treat yourself to a luxurious experience, afternoon tea should be at the top of your list. You only need a stunning tea set, loose-leaf tea, and a few hours to unwind with friends or loved ones.
The History and Tradition of Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is a beloved English tradition with a rich history. In the 1840s, Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, experienced a “sinking feeling” during the late afternoon. To remedy this, she took tea and light refreshments privately in her room. She soon started inviting friends to join her, and thus the social custom of afternoon tea was born.
Afternoon tea typically consists of finger sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and jam, cakes and pastries, and various teas. The sandwiches are usually filled with cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, and ham. Scones are light, crumbly quick bread, and the most well-known are plain scones, raisin scones, and cheese scones. Cakes and pastries include Victoria sponge cake, lemon tarts, macarons, éclairs, and petit fours. Of course, various premium loose-leaf teas are essential to a traditional afternoon tea.
The tradition of afternoon tea spread quickly through aristocratic circles and became a social event. Lavish tea sets, linens, and silverware were used, and specific etiquette and attire were expected. Today, many hotels and tea rooms offer afternoon tea, ranging from under $30 per person to $100 or more at luxury establishments. You can also purchase an afternoon tea set for home use, with prices starting around $30 for a basic set and going up to $500 or more for an elegant silver tea set.
Afternoon tea is ideal for spending time with friends or celebrating a special occasion. Steeped in history and tradition, this long-standing custom evokes a sense of elegance, leisure, and English refinement. Whether in public or private, afternoon tea is an experience to be savoured.
What’s in an Afternoon Tea Set?
A traditional afternoon tea set will include the following essential pieces:
- A teapot: The centrepiece of the set, typically made of porcelain, ceramic or bone china, holds enough tea for multiple servings.
- Teacups and saucers: Elegant cups with a matching saucer for each guest. Cups hold 4 to 6 ounces of tea.
- A milk jug: Also called a creamer, for adding milk or cream to tea. They are usually matching the set.
- A sugar bowl: Contains cubes or granulated sugar for sweetening tea—also part of the matching set.
- Sandwich plates: Small plates for finger sandwiches, scones, tea cakes and other savouries.
- A three-tiered platter: Displays an assortment of finger foods, with savoury items on the bottom, scones in the middle and sweets on the top.
- Serving utensils: Small spoons for sugar, jam and cream, and tongs for retrieving sandwiches and pastries.
- Linens: Including cloth napkins, doilies and tablecloths to protect surfaces and provide an elegant touch.
Depending on the brand and materials, a complete afternoon tea set can cost $50 to $500 or more. Many department stores, home goods retailers, gourmet food shops and tea speciality stores sell a variety of tea sets in classic and modern styles to suit any taste. Treat yourself or give the gift of this timeless tradition. An afternoon tea set evokes nostalgia for gentler times while allowing us to savour life’s simple pleasures.
Types of Afternoon Tea Sets: Porcelain, Silver, and More
Porcelain Tea Sets
Porcelain tea sets are classic and elegant. Made of delicate porcelain or bone china, these sets often feature decorative patterns like floral prints or gold trim. Popular brands of porcelain tea sets include Royal Albert, Wedgwood, and Royal Doulton. A porcelain tea set will typically include the following:Teapot, Sugar bowl, Creamer, Teacups and saucers, Plates or stands for tea cakes and sandwiches.
Porcelain tea sets range from $50 to $500 or more for a high-quality set. They are available from department stores, home goods stores, and speciality retailers that sell fine china and tableware.
Silver Tea Sets
For a wealthy afternoon tea, consider a silver tea set. Sterling silver or silver plate tea sets convey grandeur and sophistication. These sets include the same pieces as a porcelain set but are crafted from silver. Well-known silversmiths like Georg Jensen, Tiffany & Co., and Christofle offer silver tea sets ranging from $500 to $10,000 or more.
In addition to porcelain and silver, afternoon tea sets are available in:
- Glass: For a modern look, glass tea sets with sleek designs are available for around $30 to $200.
- Wood: Rustic wooden tea sets provide an organic, natural feel. Typically $50 to $200.
- Stoneware: Ceramic stoneware with an earthy, handcrafted style. Around $30 to $150.
- Cast iron: Enamel-coated cast iron tea sets come in bright colours for something durable yet whimsical, around $50 to $200.
The variety of afternoon tea sets’ materials, styles and price points means there’s an option for any taste and budget. An elegant porcelain or silver setting creates a tremendous traditional tea experience, while alternative materials provide a fun, casual twist. No matter which you choose, a tea set allows you to share the timeless custom of afternoon tea.
How Much Does an Afternoon Tea Set Cost?
Price Range for Afternoon Tea Sets
The price of an afternoon tea set can vary greatly depending on the materials, brand, and number of pieces included. You can expect to pay between $50 and $500 or more for a complete set.
Entry-Level Sets ($50 to $150)
For those on a budget, you can find lovely afternoon tea sets for under $150 that include the basics:
- A teapot, usually porcelain, glass or ceramic
- 3 to 5 teacups and saucers
- A sugar bowl
- Creamer or milk jug
- Tray (optional)
These sets are perfect for casual tea with friends or as a starter set. Look for brands like Lenox, Wedgwood, Royal Albert or Royal Doulton.
Mid-Range Sets ($200 to $350)
Moving up to the $200 to $350 range, you’ll find high-quality sets from renowned brands that include:
- A teapot, teacups and saucers made of fine bone china or porcelain
- Matching sugar bowl, creamer, waste bowl and lidded cake plate
- Elegant details like gold trim, floral patterns or other decorative accents
- Handcrafted sets from British companies like Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton.
Premium Sets ($400+)
For the ultimate afternoon tea experience, consider investing in a premium set from a prestigious brand like Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert or Gien. These sets start around $400 and up and feature:
- The highest quality bone china or porcelain
- Intricate hand-painted designs and gold or platinum accents
- Additional serving pieces like a tiered cake stand, sandwich plates, jam pots and more
- Many are collectable, limited editions that gain value over time.
- Unparalleled beauty and craftsmanship will make any tea an unforgettable event
Ultimately, choose an afternoon tea set that fits your budget and personal style. With options at every price point, you can find an elegant setting to enjoy for years to come. Starting with a smaller set, you can always build up your collection over time. The most important thing is gathering with friends and loved ones to share the time-honoured tradition of afternoon tea.
Where to Buy an Afternoon Tea Set
When searching for an elegant afternoon tea set, consider visiting speciality retailers focusing on fine china, silver, and tea accessories. These stores typically offer a variety of classic and contemporary tea sets at a range of price points to suit any budget. Their knowledgeable staff can also guide the different options to help you make an informed choice.
High-end department stores frequently have tabletop and home decor sections where you may discover a delightful afternoon tea set. While the selection may be more limited than a speciality retailer, department stores often run sales and promotions that could result in a bargain. They also allow you to use any store credit cards you may have to take advantage of additional rewards or financing offers.
Many people purchase an afternoon tea set from an online retailer for convenience. Websites like Teasetbox.com, EnglishTeaStore.com, Harrods.com, and FortnumandMason.com specialize in afternoon tea accessories and ship internationally. While unable to see the items in person before buying, reputable online retailers provide detailed descriptions and high-resolution images to give you a good sense of the tea set’s appearance and quality. Be sure to check the return policy if you are not fully satisfied with your purchase upon receiving it.
Wherever you shop, look for a tea set constructed from high-quality, durable materials that will withstand repeated use without showing signs of deterioration or damage. Porcelain, bone china, and stainless steel are exceptional options. Consider the number of pieces included, the pattern and decorative details, and the set’s intended functionality to determine which choice best fits your needs and budget. An attractive, well-made tea set is an investment that can provide years of enjoyment and become an heirloom piece passed down to future generations.
As you have learned, afternoon tea is a timeless tradition that allows you to slow down and savour the simple pleasures in life. An elegant tea set accompanies an afternoon tea, allowing you to channel a sense of sophistication and decorum. While tea sets range widely in price, you can find an affordable yet tasteful set to suit your needs. Once you have your tea set, invite some friends, brew a pot of your favourite tea, lay out some sandwiches and scones, and enjoy an afternoon steeped in civility. An afternoon tea set is more than just a collection of dishes; it is an opportunity to create cherished memories and connect with loved ones over a cup of tea and light fare. For an experience that transcends the ordinary and mundane, look no further than the time-honoured custom of afternoon tea.