A mad makeover has been brewing in afternoon tea, from science-inspired spreads to ‘dude food’ refreshments and everything in between, as consumers seek out more adventurous twists on the classic cuppa.
In fact, a recent survey found that over three-quarters of Brits are desperate to change the ingredients of a traditional afternoon tea, according to booking platform Klook. In a study of over 2,000 UK consumers, one in ten want burritos served alongside traditional petit fours, while a third want to ditch tea as the main beverage. For 34% of people, even small tweaks like adding crumpets or biscuits to the menu would be a welcome change.
Afternoon tea is growing in popularity across the UK, with bookings increasing by 54% over the past two years, as figures from OpenTable revealed in February. It’s a trend reflected in the range of new concepts that have appeared, from upcycled finger food to themed experiences that draw on fashion and art.
The rise in free-from diets is also having an effect, with Café Forty One serving up plant-based delights at London’s first vegan patisserie, as well as original takes on scones, sandwiches and pastries. Elsewhere, sandwiches are substituted for spider rolls and sliders (Ginza Onodera) or samosas and street food snacks (The LaLiT London).
And that’s just the beginning.
More variety, texture and flavours
Savage Garden’s afternoon tea tactics could open up the experience to a whole new demographic. This new rooftop bar in London has thrown out the dainty finger sandwiches for an afternoon featuring sliders, tacos and ‘savage’ scones (quite what makes them so vicious, we don’t know).
The menu has international flavours too, with items such as sweet potato sliders with coriander yoghurt, spicy peanut crumb and red onions; smoked chicken tacos with Korean ketchup, spring onions, chillies and sesame seeds; and rare roast beef and wasabi remoulade. Sweets include black tea choux buns, cherry and coconut lamingtons and dark chocolate cremeux spheres.
Executive chef Damien Chorley tells Food Spark that Savage Garden’s afternoon tea was designed with the bar’s distinct personality in mind. As a result, they wanted to create a different experience by replacing the usual finger sandwiches with a menu that gave more variety, texture and flavour – as well as something far from the norm.
“[Afternoon tea] is a historic tradition, but as a result of the fierce competition, bars and restaurants are being challenged to think outside the box and offer something completely new to keep the offering interesting and appealing,” he says.“Our goal was to create a different aesthetic, leading with the savouries whilst still incorporating the sweeter elements that everyone loves.
“It’s no secret that there is an abundance of great places to enjoy afternoon tea across London, so to stand out we wanted to focus on the savouries and really experiment with the flavours.”
Chorley, who was the executive chef at the likes of The Langham Shenzhen in China, The Marriott in Dubai and St Martin’s Lane Hotel in Covent Garden, thinks redesigning culinary classics like afternoon tea has always been a trend.
“Afternoon tea provides a great canvas and jumping off point from which to experiment with flavours, making use of seasonal produce and varying textures. There’s also the opportunity to create something really visually striking with afternoon tea, therefore appealing to all the senses,” he explains.“To keep guests interested there does need to be a certain amount of continual innovation in any bar or restaurant, and I think it’s largely this that drives the redesigning of afternoon tea.”
A visual feast
Earlier this year, some more unusual experiences took home the top gongs from the Afternoon Tea Awards.
Among them were Rosewood’s Art Afternoon Tea, which changes its inspiration regularly but is currently incorporating the artistic movements of cubism and pop art. Executive pastry chef Mark Perkins has created a colourful collection of pastries, as well as a dessert inspired by one of Andy Warhol’s most famous works, his Campbell’s Soup Cans, made from cherry jelly, white chocolate, milk chocolate mousse, vanilla cremeux, flourless chocolate cake and cherry ganache.
Another themed winner was The Ampersand Hotel’s Science Tea, an interactive experience with inventive jams served in petri dishes, chocolate spacemen and dinosaur biscuits. Fortnum & Mason was recognised for its children’s afternoon tea aimed at those aged 4-10 years’ old, serving up light finger sandwiches, scones and a selection of cakes (including Jammy dodgers), with the option to ditch the tea and have hot chocolate, fruit juice or a glass of milk instead.
Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at bakery manufacturer Brioche Pasquier, says that recent trends have seen more extreme or unusual creations proving popular, such as an Alice in Wonderland theme, bird-cage-type presentations or dry ice and matched cocktails.
Twists on the traditional aren’t necessarily thematic. The Principal in Bloomsbury has scones made with camomile and lemon or matcha and sesame, while at The Modern Pantry scones are topped with whipped black garlic and umbeoshi butter, and shortbreads are made with a handful of garam masala spices.
Anthony Marshall, executive chef at the London Hilton on Park Lane, told Food Spark’s sister site British Baker that one way to be inventive is to shake up the scone’s sauces and make them seasonal – so cranberry and orange for winter, apple and cinnamon for autumn and apricots in the spring. The Hilton has seven different styles of afternoon tea based on occasions, including Halloween, Mother’s Day and Fashion Week.He also sees a trend towards interesting decorating.
“Techniques like tempering chocolate and mirror glazing are a must these days,” he said.
Another way to mix things up is to swap sultanas for summer fruits like berries in scones, while Magdalena Kubanska, head pastry chef at The Stafford London, is a fan of savoury.
“I’ve very keen on savoury scones such as aged cheddar cheese with grain mustard or bacon and rosemary,” she said. “I also like mixing different fruits and exotic spices into scones.”
Even sustainability has crept into afternoon teas, with boutique hotel Georgian House using discarded ingredients to fashion delicious dishes. Think toast topped with unused mushroom stems and lardon cuttings, while the cheese and thyme scone is made with crumbs gathered from the cheeseboard.
So is Sparkie up for some sliders with his scones?
This could be interesting. I have certainly noticed that the huge health trend has created a smaller demand for absolute indulgence too. The idea of going out for afternoon tea fits in with that idea of high-quality decadence. There are a lot of places that do the regular kind of afternoon tea though so switching it up is a great idea.
As a base product, the idea of afternoon tea is quite feminine, so creating a male-orientated design that shies away from the tiny cakes and sandwiches is a great way to bring in a brand-new crowd. The same goes for bringing children along – it is all about opening up the product to other segments of the consumer base which were previously shut out by design.
I would throw the caveat in there though that due to the trend for authentic and traditional foods going strong, the regular set-up is still worth having on the menu, as it is part of our tradition.