Tea's known history dates back to at least the 3rd century A.D., when early records indicate that it was used as a medicinal drink in China's Yunnan region during the Shang Dynasty. In the following centuries, its popularity spread to other parts of Asia and to Europe—but most famously to England. It is there where afternoon tea is said to have originated—when, in 1840, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, requested tea and an assortment of snacks at four o'clock in the afternoon to tide her over between lunch and her household's evening meal, which was served at eight o'clock in the evening.
Although afternoon tea is decidedly British, it's a tradition travelers can enjoy at luxury hotels around the world. Some stick to a traditional script, while others incorporate a more international twist—from a lavish, Turkish-themed tea in New York City and an Asian-inspired offering in Sydney to a Russian-themed option in Oregon. (Almost always on offer: Champagne.)
Whichever afternoon tea you prefer, the experiences at these 12 hotels beautifully—and deliciously—pay homage to the world's most ubiquitous beverage.
Bangkok: Anantara Siam Bangkok
From 2 p.m. until 6 p.m daily during the week, locals and visitors to Bangkok can duck out of the sweltering city streets and into the cool, soaring lobby of the Anantara Siam Bangkok—complete with marble floors and pillars and a dramatic, frescoed ceiling—for Afternoon Tea. Inventive takes on traditional savory tea-time snacks include spirulina croquettes, and mini charcoal croissants with ham, cream cheese, and fresh lettuce. Sweets feature a range of refreshing flavors, from lemon custard tarts to pistachio cake to raspberry éclairs.
New York: Baccarat Hotel
Afternoon Tea at Manhattan's Baccarat Hotel is a lavish and immersive cultural experience with several menus inspired by palaces around the world—including, Turkey, Russia, and, naturally, the U.K. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, the hotel's tea sommelier is on hand to help guests pair the perfect tea by Paris' Mariage Frères—including an exclusive South African Rooibos Baccarat Blend—with chef-prepared canapés and petit fours inspired by their destination of choice. Note that on Mondays and Tuesdays only the Prince of Wales Afternoon Tea is served.
Zurich: Baur au Lac
At Zurich's Baur au Lac, Afternoon Tea is beloved as much for its artful sweet and savory treats as it is for the plush atmosphere in which they're served—Le Hall, the same elegant lobby lounge where Bertha von Suttner convinced Alfred Nobel of the need for a world peace prize, and where Franz Liszt accompanied son-in-law Richard Wagner on the piano for the world première of “Die Walküre.” Thomas Mann was known to write in the glass-ceilinged room, and Marc Chagall spent time sketching here. Choose from the Traditional Afternoon Tea, which includes sandwiches, scones, small pastries, and loose-leaf TWG teas, or the Champagne version, which will also get you a glass of Philipponnat bubbly.
Los Angeles: Hotel Bel-Air
Los Angeles is a leader when it comes to fresh and healthful eats—and that goes for tea time, too. With a focus on organic ingredients—think Japanese-cucumber sandwiches, organic Jidori chicken salad, and, of course, Haas avocado toast—Wolfgang Puck restaurant at Hotel Bel-Air offers one of the city's most celebrated afternoon tea services. (Make yours the Royal option by adding a glass of JCB No. 21 Crémant de Bourgogne.) But blink and you'll miss it—afternoon tea is served from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only, so make a reservation to avoid missing out.
London: One Aldwych
With its location in Covent Garden, London's buzzy Broadway equivalent, it's no surprise that afternoon tea at One Aldwych comes with a side of theatrical whimsy. The hotel's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired afternoon tea—a nod to the musical that wrapped its nearly four-year London run in January 2017—includes fantastical treats such as bubblegum panna cotta, homemade candy floss, and golden chocolate eggs filled with vanilla cheesecake and mango. In addition to fine teas ranging from Moroccan Mint to Mango Noir, you can choose to add a glass of Lallier Grande Réserve or Rosé Champagne, or a Cocktail Charlie—a tipple containing whisky, cherry liqueur, chocolate bitters, grapefruit juice, and cherry syrup and finished with a bit of bubbly.
Portland, OR: The Heathman
This summer, The Heathman hotel revealed a renovation that brought a newly warm aesthetic to its two-story Tea Court. One feature that remained unchanged: James Beard Award-winning Chef Vitaly Paley's popular Russian Tea service, which debuted in 2016 and pays homage to his provenance with dishes passed down from his grandmother. Popular among them is a sour cream-and-walnut cake called steopka, piroshki with mushroom stuffing, blinis with salmon caviar and sour cream, and zapekanka, or Russian cheesecake. Teas are by Portland's own Steven Smith and are served from traditional, Russian-style samovars and Paley family teapots. In a nod to the tradition of sweetening tea with jam instead of sugar, Paley serves up a homemade version made from huckleberries, a mainstay of his youth in the USSR.
Durban, South Africa: The Oyster Box
Having High Tea at Durban's beachfront Oyster Box hotel is akin to perusing a candy store's shelves. Jumbo glass jars with tall, pointed tops brim with pastel-colored confections and cakes, cookies, pastries, and miniature parfaits of all flavors and colors neatly cover the white high tea table at the center of the hotel's sunlit Palm Court. The only thing more relaxing than sipping tea and nibbling on sweet and savory snacks in a comfy wicker chair surrounded by palms is the live piano music that plays in the background.
Dublin: The Shelbourne
Tradition dictates that, on inauguration day in Dublin, the city's newly elected mayor makes the short walk from his official residence to the Shelbourne Hotel to enjoy refreshments in its Lord Mayor's Lounge. But you don't have to hold office to get a taste of the newly renovated hotel's classic culinary offerings. The Lord Mayor's Lounge is home to one of the city's most popular Afternoon Tea services, which offers up traditional bites like egg salad sandwiches, buttermilk scones, and sweets such as rhubarb-and-elderflower pannacotta, as well as a Champagne version for extra-special occasions.
Cape Town: The Silo
Cape Town may be a cosmopolitan city, but Royal High Tea at The Silo is flush with South African flavors. Pastry chef Devin Jones infuses his chocolate petit fours with cardamom—a spice commonly used in Cape Malay cooking—and stuffs his beef empanadas with curried mincemeat, almonds, and raisins in a nod to the traditional Cape Malay dish called Bobotie. Among the TWG teas on offer in the hotel's sixth-floor Granary Cafe is a Rooibos grown in Cape Town's Cederberg Mountains, but perhaps there's nothing more South African about the experience than the views of the V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain you'll enjoy from up above. Traditional Afternoon Tea and Royal High Tea are both offered; reservations are required for the latter.
Hong Kong: Upper House
Arguably no city skyline in the world is as sought after by travelers as Hong Kong's, and one of the best places to take it in is from Café Gray Deluxe, on the 49th floor of the Upper House Hotel, where New York superchef Gray Kunz offers afternoon tea with Asian and international influences. The cafe's lengthy afternoon tea menu includes Asian-influenced snacks such as prawn, nori, and mango tea sandwiches with bergamot mayo and chili, matcha cheesecake, and jasmine macarons. Have a big shopping score to celebrate? Add a mini bottle of Lanson brut or rosé Champagne. Beauty bonus: From now through the end of September, afternoon tea guests will receive a body, hair, and face gift set from cult-favorite fragrance brand Le Labo.
Sydney: InterContinental Sydney Double Bay
For an over-the-top high tea experience, set your sights Down Under. Located on leafy Cross Street in Sydney's waterfront Double Bay neighborhood, the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay offers a few different iterations in its glamorous Stillery restaurant and bar. Double Bay Signature High Tea is perfect for traditionalists, while Oriental High Tea includes Asian-inspired bites such as steamed dumplings and buns. Chocolate High Tea will satisfy even the most voracious sweet tooth (it comes with savory bites, too). Regardless of which one you choose, you can add a glass of Champagne or three mini martinis. If your tea companions are too young to partake, opt for the Children's High Tea, complete with hot chocolate or a soft drink and cheerful treats that are almost too cute to eat.
Nevis: Nisbet Plantation Beach Club
Considering that Nevis was once a British colony, tea is practically in the island's DNA. One of the best spots to enjoy the British tradition is at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club's Great House, which dates back to 1778. Offered daily from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m., afternoon tea is served on the Great House's terrace, where guests can enjoy balmy breezes and views of the Caribbean Sea and the avenue of palms along with a selection of traditional savory and sweet tea time treats, such as finger sandwiches, scones, and banana and carrot cake.