“Where does one find a proper afternoon tea in Manchester?” The question seems perfectly innocent and proper, a reasonable inquiry from a Manchester holiday-maker intent on showing regard for British history and culture. Manchester residents, however, smile wryly at the question, replying, “Most Mancs don’t do afternoon tea.”
It’s a trick answer to a tricky question. Apropos of Manchester’s reverence for British history, “Mancs” observe the strict distinction between afternoon or “low tea” and traditional “high tea” which is something else altogether. Americans are especially prone to confusing their tea times and services, thinking “low” and “high” have something to do with manners or social classes or cloth versus paper napkins. “Low” tea takes its name from the table on which one serves it: A mid-afternoon tea features scones, pastries, finger sandwiches and sweetened teas served on low tables for easy navigation with the tea service. Because of the city’s long association with long hours of industrial work, the majority of Manchester residents take “high tea,” served on a high table and featuring heavy meat and fish dishes, especially steak and kidney pie.
Proper afternoon teas in Manchester
Catering to the tourist trade, a handful of respectable Manchester institutions serve a proper afternoon tea. Of course, boutique hotels, trendy bed-and-breakfasts and a handful of private residences elevate “low” tea to an art so that one is always wise to make polite inquiries. The best-known Manchester afternoon teas include:
• Opus One in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel The proprietors refer to it as a “Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea” because it includes not only the traditional light fare but also the more robust dishes associated with “high” tea. Many visitors comment on the overwhelming array of exquisitely prepared dishes, saying, “After the meager afternoon tea fare we found even at pricey London hotels, we were delighted with all the wonderful food we found in Manchester. We positively stuffed ourselves.” Experienced Edwardian tea-takers recommend you book reservations for your tea on the outdoor terrace because the main dining room feels a bit dark and gloomy for an afternoon affair.
• The Sculpture Hall in the Town Hall Steeped in tradition, tea is served in the Sculpture Hall weekdays from 2 until 3:30pm, Saturdays from noon until 4pm. Because this Champagne Cream Tea is a bit of a celebration, the staff politely requests you allow 15 minutes for proper brewing and service. Visitors insist the leisurely pace is, in fact, part of the experience, and they rave about the delicacies, especially the traditional cucumber and free range egg sandwiches. Of course, you will enjoy scones with jam and cream and an excellent selection of pastries.
• Sugar Junction Afternoon tea done properly and with passion: Mother and daughter opened Sugar Junction in response to popular demand. They started as an “outside events” events company, catering to lovers of vintage tea parties, and they became exceptionally popular with wedding planners. Sue and Cheryl say, “Sugar Junction was born out of a passion for everything Vintage and of course our love for good wholesome food and our obsession with baking.” Visitors say the warm, inviting ambience and the staff’s attention to details of service makes tea at Sugar Junction especially memorable.
• The Crowne Plaza, Midland The hotel itself is a British classic so that one would reasonably expect the tea would keep pace with the architecture. It does not disappoint. Representative of hundreds of reviews just like it, a tripadvisor.com write-up reads, “We have been to other Manchester Hotels for afternoon tea but none beats the one that we had here at the Midland. The Hotel is very impressive, the staff first class and the attention to detail second to none.”
Comme il faut
Mothers and daughters occasionally take afternoon tea as an excuse for instruction in proper etiquette. One never knows when Will and Kate may call, and it is best to be prepared. Socialites note, ”Just like the royalty and upper class did in the original tea parties, it is important to use proper etiquette when attending a formal tea party.” Study their website for important tips so that you may avoid embarrassing faux pas.
Tasha Finch is a freelance writer living in London. She writes for manchesterhotels.org and loves to recommend the site for finding the best hotels in Manchester. Click here to read about the best hotels in Manchester.