Afternoon tea is fast becoming the latest affordable treat

PUBLISHED: 17:00 05 January 2012 | UPDATED: 17:55 27 May 2016

Hard times have made the afternoon tea of cake, scones and a brew the treat of choice for young and old, says our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk Photographs by Andy Bulmer

Yorkshire Life January 2012Yorkshire Life January 2012

What do the English do in times of austerity? If new research is anything to go by – they take afternoon tea. While the spa treatment might have been the diversion of choice in days gone by, it now appears people are tucking into scones and tea as an affordable treat – and, let’s face it, there’s nothing better on a cold January day than a warming cuppa and a hunk of cake.

In fact, a Tea Council survey suggests that up to 27 per cent of Brits drink more than six cups of tea a day in winter, and afternoon tea has become such a big recessionary business for leading London hotels, some are putting on six sittings a day to cope with demand.

And Yorkshire, known worldwide for its numerous tea rooms, is no exception.Tourism authority Welcome to Yorkshire for example recently launched a Tea Trail to highlight the county’s unrivalled places to enjoy tea taking in D’Oyly’s Tea Room at Bolton Percy, Lewis and Cooper in Northallerton and The Black Swan Tea Room in Helmsley, among many others. Yorkshire’s most famous purveyor of tea and cake, Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, which has been serving beautiful brews since 1919, says afternoon teas have become the fastest growing part of its business.

‘Afternoon tea is such a delicious and quintessentially English tradition that it seems to us it’s never been out of fashion,’ says Paula Kaye, catering and retail manager at Bettys, which has six tea rooms across Yorkshire. ‘People come to Bettys for the luxury, some time out from the hustle and bustle of life, and taking pleasure in good conversation at the table.’

It’s said that the Duchess of Bedford in the mid-1800s had the notion to take afternoon tea. She often complained of a ‘sinking feeling’ in the late afternoon, which would be sated with tea and bread and butter. Later, friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey between 3pm and 5pm, and soon the fashion for tea in the afternoon took off in drawing rooms across the country.

At Kiplin Hall in Richmond, which was recently given the status of Tea Room of the Year in the Flavours of Herriot Country Awards, visitors can enjoy a similar lady’s afternoon treat, with the ‘Lady Tyrconnel’s Afternoon Tea’, named after the daughter of Robert Crowe who inherited the hall in the early 1800s. Afternoon tea includes a home baked fruit scone, a slice of cake and pots of hot tea.
‘A psychic lady told us that the ghost of a liveried footman still carries a silver tray set for tea into the upper drawing room, which we believe was once Lady Tyrconnel’s sitting room,’ says Kiplin Hall’s Marcia McLuckie.
Increasingly though, the modern afternoon tea has become something of a ‘high tea’, offering enough food to see you through until breakfast.

Bettys’ afternoon indulgence, for example, includes a pot of tea, four different types of sandwiches, a sultana scone with strawberry preserve and Yorkshire clotted cream and a selection of handcrafted miniature cakes all served on an elegant silver cake stand. What’s more, with a growing number of younger clientele taking tea, Bettys also offers the option of an additional glass of pink Champagne.

Pubs are also getting in on the act. Tim Bilton, chef-proprietor of The Butchers Arms in Hepworth says they’ve begun offering a Champagne afternoon tea for parties and weddings. ‘We had a hen party recently that started their day off with afternoon tea at The Butchers and they loved it, especially the glass of bubbly,’ he says. ‘Afternoon tea has reinvented itself as a fashionable thing to do now.’

But the rise in popularity of the post-lunch brew isn’t restricted to Yorkshire’s tea rooms it seems; people are now also taking tea at home. Sales figures from the major supermarkets suggest that jam-filled pastries, cakes, doughnuts, scones and clotted cream are flying off the shelves, with cost-cutting consumers swapping luxury items for afternoon treats to have at home with a cuppa.

Allison Whitmarsh, owner of multi award-winning cake business Proper Maid, based in Huddersfield, is one of those who have benefited. A former school dinner lady, Allison saw a gap in the market for good quality, home baked cakes, cookies and loaves with a twist on the traditional.

She has made a name for herself with unusual flavoured cakes such as courgette and lime, beetroot and chocolate, liquorice and dandelion and burdock – the latter developed as a tribute to Huddersfield’s most famous export. ‘Tea and cake has always been a great Yorkshire tradition, and I got the baking bug from my grandma,’ says Allison. ‘I remember her baking in the week and every Sunday we’d go over and taste what she’d made.

There was always something different – Madeira, Victoria sponge or coffee and walnut. Since then, I’ve always found baking a great stress reliever and if I’m upset about something I’ll just bake all day to get the tension out.’

In response to the increased demand for cakes for afternoon tea, Allison has begun to bake cakes in two sizes, the smaller specifically as an afternoon treat. ‘Our most popular for winter is definitely the chocolate chilli and fudge cake, combining traditional chocolate cake with hot chilli powder and fresh red chillis and a fudge and chocolate icing – it’s definitely a winter warmer.’

Ultimately, Allison believes afternoon tea always has, and will remain a big hit in Yorkshire. ‘Yorkshire people love a cuppa and cake; something wet with something sweet, something warming and filling,’ she says. ‘We enjoy good quality food that doesn’t cut corners but at a reasonable price – afternoon tea ticks all those boxes.’

Best brews in Yorkshire

Bettys Tea Rooms
Indulge in tea treats at Bettys’ six locations including Harrogate, York, Ilkley and Northallerton. For a truly memorable visit, reserve a table for afternoon tea in the splendid Imperial Room, at Bettys, Harrogate, or their elegant Belmont Room in complete with tinkling piano accompaniment. 01423 814008.

Kiplin Hall
Try home baked delights made by tea room manager Mary Exelby in the panelled entrance hall, beneath the gaze of Charles II and Kiplin family portraits. Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL10 6AT.
01748 818178.

D’Oyly’s Tea Room and Bed & Breakfast
Run by Henry and Vicky Houseman and their family, this traditional tea room bakes Aga scones, teacakes and Yorkshire curd tart alongside an afternoon tea of dainty scones, homemade jam and clotted cream, served on vintage china. North House, Bolton Percy, York, YO23 7AN. 01904 744 354.

The Black Swan Tea Room
A chilled glass of Champagne awaits those who try the deluxe afternoon tea at this boutique-style hotel, which also offers an Afternoon Tea of the Month for real connoisseurs. Market Place, Helmsley, Yorkshire, YO62 5BJ. 01439 770466.

For more on Welcome to Yorkshire’s Tea Trail go to

For delectable morsels from the ‘ladies who bake’ at Proper Maid go to

Did we miss you favourite tea room out? Where's the best place for a cuppa in Yorkshire? Leave a comment below

The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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