Time for tea - and cakes, too!

In Britain, tea is something we take seriously, and its Brownian motion permeates our culture: from ceramic mugs of sweet dark builder's brew to elegant bone china cups and saucers where a slim circle of lemon floats in the amber liquid; from tea breaks at the office to hot sweet tea in times of shock.

English tea shops
Afternoon tea / © VisitBritain 

Quite simply, tea is our national drink, classless and timeless, and every day we drink 165 million cups of it. But 'tea' isn't just a drink: even the cricket commentators appreciate a slice of cake with their afternoon tea. So, where do you go for that cup of tea, with elegant finger sandwiches, scones and cream or petit fours?

The Wolseley, London
Set in the heart of London on Piccadilly, The Wolseley takes its name from the building's first incarnation, back in the early 1920s, as a prestigious car showroom. Today the towering pillars and arches, the high vaulted ceilings and elegant black and gold decor provide a sumptuous setting for one of the best afternoon teas in London. Whether you opt for the full afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones and pastries, a simpler cream tea, or the special Wolsely Champagne tea, you're in for a treat.

Bettys, Harrogate & York
Founded in 1919 by Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont, in the fashionable spa town of Harrogate, the original Bettys' reputation was based on a combination of fine Swiss confectionery skills and the warmth and hospitality of Yorkshire. Now there are six branches in the north east; the original glass-fronted corner site with its great wrought iron canopy is still a favourite, but is rivalled by the splendour of the York Cafe Tea Rooms. In 1936, Belmont sailed on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, an experience that so impressed him that he commissioned the vessel's designers and craftsmen to transform a former furniture store into the art deco elegance that remains today.

Attic, Bristol
Chic and sophisticated, the Attic Tea Bar in Bristol's leafy Redland district really is all about tea. The clean lines and minimalist decor allow space to unwind and appreciate the carefully chosen Chinese teas recommended by the staff who are all passionate about their chosen subject. Although cakes are included in the picture, tea tasting at the Attic is not your traditional cream tea indulgence: instead it's a chance to discover the benefits the different brews can have on your health and well-being and find out just how good for you our national drink really is.

The Tea Cosy, Brighton
Its walls and shelves covered in Royal Family memorabilia and typically British knick knacks, The Tea Cosy in Brighton is eccentric and quirky. The menu is dotted with Royal references and offers a tempting selection from finger sandwiches to full-blown high teas. House rules include no elbows on the table and no dunking of biscuits, and Union flags are strung liberally over tables decked with embroidered cloths. In all, The Tea Cosy is a perfect example of British kitsch at its finest.

The Balmoral, Edinburgh
For those who appreciate the finer things in life, afternoon tea under the sparkling glass dome and Venetian glass chandelier of the Palm Court at Edinburgh's Balmoral Hotel is the perfect way to recoup after shopping in the Scottish capital. The discreet waiters are immaculately dressed in black, a harp provides soft background music, and tempting cakes and sandwiches appear as if by magic at your table.

The Rose, Oxford
The sandwiches on the Rose's menu include classics such as egg and cress, cucumber and cream cheese, and organic smoked salmon; then there are scones and jam and home made cakes, too, or proper English toasted teacakes. The baked goods are all made from scratch using organically produced flour and local ingredients where possible. But the 17 varieties of tea come from China, India and Sri Lanka, or wherever is needed to obtain the highest quality. There are ten different 'regular' teas, a number of herbal teas and a couple of highly exotic specialities, including the deliciously-named Phoenix Pearl Dragon. And the quintessentially English city of Oxford provides a perfect setting.

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