It was author Henry James who once mused “there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." We couldn’t agree more! There’s something infinitely lovely about sitting down to a steaming pot of tea and selection of bitesize treats that taste as good as they look. And if there’s a view? All the better. But where does this whimsical concept come from?
This quintessentially English tradition dates back to the mid-19th century, when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, experienced hunger pangs around 4pm which she promptly remedied with a light meal of tea, bread and butter. The idea caught on and grew a life of its own, expanding to include sandwich fillings, cakes and pastries and demanding people change into their finery to enjoy it.
While the idea has slipped out of everyday fashion, it's still a ritual we enjoy on a special occasion. And, fortunately for you, whether you want lashings of tradition or something a touch quirkier, when it comes to afternoon tea, Cornwall has plenty of options. These days you don’t have to wear a ballgown to partake, but there’s nothing to stop you…
Surrounded by National Trust farmland with sweeping views across Cornwall's rugged north coast, you'd be hard pressed to beat the location here. The site itself is part of a traditional mixed farm and you'll be able to see their pedigree Devon cattle grazing in the fields that surround the shop.
Inside, you can shop for home reared award-winning produce and delicious edibles from local artisan fine-food producers. But, of course, you can’t visit without stopping by the cafe. The word here is: homemade. Everything they whip up in their coastal kitchen - from burgers and breakfasts, pasties and puddings - is all made from scratch.
So, when it comes to the afternoon tea, you're in for a treat. You'll be treated to a range of fresh sandwiches, such as Davidstow cheddar and cucumber or Red Ruby beef and horseradish, savoury pasties, homemade scones and a selection of cakes and sweet treats, such as coffee and walnut cake and lemon and lavender shortbread.
Open daily 9am – 4pm.
Rectory Tea Rooms, Morwenstow near Bude
Tucked away in the sweet village of Morwenstow, near Bude, you'll find this award-winning tea room. It was built in the 13th century making it an excellent choice for history buffs. Wander around and you’ll see it’s past everywhere, from the antique furnishings to the oak beams salvaged from local shipwrecks.
The Tea Rooms opened in 1950 as a family run business and it's still run by the family today. Over the years it's been featured in newspapers, magazines and even on TV shows like the BBC's Hairy Bikers Comfort Food. It's also scooped up numerous awards like the coveted Taste of the West Gold (2018/19) and the Tripadvisor Award of Excellence (2017).
Suffice to say, afternoon tea here is serious business and the portions are generous. Given its prime location just ten minutes off the south west coastal path, you might like to arrive post walk with a bit of an appetite on you to make the most of the servings.
The family also runs an organic farm and you'll find their own beef, lamb and produce throughout their menu. If they haven't reared or grown it themselves, chances are it'll be sourced locally, from Cornish clotted cream and local jam to Westcountry cheeses. Tea is taken similarly seriously, with a huge range of loose-leaf teas from Tregothnan, Cornwall's first tea plantation, along with Tugboat Tea of Truro who blend teas, including the house tea: Smugglers Choice.
Afterwards, take a stroll along the coast path to the National Trust's famous Hawker's Hut, built into the side of the cliff. The sunsets from here are something else.
They can cater to vegetarian, gluten, wheat and dairy free diets and also have a children's menu.
Open daily 11am - 4.30pm.
If you’re looking for a view with your afternoon tea, Newquay is an excellent option. Our pick? Headland Hotel. Mere minutes from the UK's best surfing beach, it’s the perfect spot to tuck into afternoon tea while you soak up coastal scenes away from the hubbub of Newquay's lively town centre.
Afternoon tea prices start at £25 and booking is a must. That price includes a selection of freshly baked cakes and scones, along with whimsical sweet treats and bite-sized finger sandwiches. You can choose from an array of loose-leaf tea, or upgrade to a flute of champagne.
If you think the hotel looks familiar, you might recognise it as the filming location for the 1990 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Witches. This October the hotel is offering up The Witches afternoon tea, back by popular demand. Diners will enjoy plenty of spooky treats including white chocolate mice, pumpkin cheesecake and autumnal sandwiches.
Afternoon tea is served between 2pm - 4.30pm
Check out more things to see and do in our Guide to North Cornwall.
This opulent Victorian mansion was originally commissioned by local lad Charles Augustin Hanson, from across the estuary in Polruan. After making his fortune in the lumber trade in Canada, Hanson went on to become MP for Bodmin in 1916 and Lord Mayor of London in 1917. But home was here and over the years Fowey Hall attracted guests from around the world.
Today the building has been reimagined as a luxury hotel, spa and restaurant. The latter does an incredible themed afternoon tea and this year they have gone with Wind in the Willows, said to be inspired by surrounding scenery.
The afternoon tea is priced at £27 per adult (or £35 for a glass of award-winning Hambledon English sparkling wine) and comes with a selection of sandwiches such as cold chicken and lovage and smoked trout and watercress, along with savoury goodies like truffled cheddar and ham scotch eggs and sweets like Badger's chocolate and berry swiss roll. There is a children’s version for £15 too, which is served with kid-friendly options like 'toad in the hole' sausage tartlet, Mole's boiled egg and soldiers and egg and cress sandwiches.
Sat on the outskirts of the ancient market town of Lostwithiel, with views over the Duchy estate and across to Restormel Castle, The Duchy of Cornwall Nursery is a peaceful place to indulge in a decadent afternoon tea. The surrounding countryside makes for great walking territory; take a hike up to explore Restormel Castle up close and on your way, work up an appetite to enjoy the full afternoon tea.
At £25 per person, or £30 with a glass of prosecco, we think the quality on offer here represents real value. Diners will tuck into the likes of smoked salmon open sandwiches, Quails Scotch egg and roast shallot tart, with sweet sensations like hazelnut and chocolate truffle bar, rose and raspberry macaron, pistachio and lime meringue cake and, of course, a classic Cornish scone with clotted cream and jam. You can opt for a selection of Tregothnan Estate teas or Origin coffee.
Afterwards peruse the nursery and charming shop, which is the perfect spot for stocking up on Christmas presents. Or just treating yourself!
Served daily from 2.30pm, bookings must be made 48 hours in advance.
If you're looking for somewhere quirky to take afternoon tea, Falmouth is the place to head. Specifically, Dolly’s Gin Palace. This fabulous little spot is part tearoom, part wine house, part gin palace. Inside the tea room is decked out in vintage regalia, with inspiration taken from the 1920s right through to the 60s. This quirky haven has a warm, ambient atmosphere with a tiny touch of Alice in Wonderland about it.
Head here in the day for a delicious afternoon tea featuring homemade scones and cakes and a huge tea selection served in adorable vintage teapots and cups. Or, if you fancy something a touch stronger, opt for gin. They have over 350 to try! And whatever you do, don't forget to give Pearl the resident dog a pat before you leave.
After you’ve indulged in afternoon tea, why not amble around Gyllyngdune Gardens, first built in 1907? Wander down to the seafront and soak up the views out to Pendennis Castle and Gyllyngvase Beach.
Once a grand coastal home, today the eminently elegant Trevalsa Court Country House Hotel invites visitors inside to enjoy its clifftop position and warm atmosphere for themselves. The views afforded from this enviable spot are glorious, with vistas out to Mevagissey Bay and down the south Cornwall coastline.
Inside, the boutique hotel features ancient oak beams and panelling, mullion windows and roaring log fires making it the perfect place to escape from the worst of the Cornish weather this winter. And what better way to cosy up than with a pot of steaming tea? Every afternoon the dining room is open for afternoon tea, which features homemade sandwiches, fresh cakes, still-warm scones with Cornish clotted cream and local jam.
Once you've had your fill of afternoon tea, take a wander through the two acres of sub-tropical gardens or stroll down to the bottom and take the coast path for a longer walk. Take a wander down to the centre of the fishing port of Mevagissey where you can learn more in the museum or hop aboard a ferry to the harbour town of Fowey.
Check out more things to see and do in our Guide to South Cornwall.
If you’re looking for a memorable afternoon tea, St Ives delivers. Just a short way out of town you’ll find the Orangery Restaurant, part of the Carbis Bay Estate which boasts its own 25-acre beach and fabulously indulgent spa.
The restaurant has been created in partnership with David Salisbury and offers a breath-taking view across the beach to St Ives Bay and on to Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance. Like the name suggests, the restaurant takes its design cues from a modern orangery and features floor to ceiling windows and a pitched glazed roof. The result is a contemporary, airy atmosphere grounded in the coastal environment.
The afternoon tea here includes a range of finger sandwiches along with cakes and freshly baked scones served with Cornish clotted cream. You can choose from a long list of tea and coffee, or upgrade your treat with a glass of Moet & Chandon Champagne instead. For the best views, ask for a window seat, though with all seats arranged to maximise the views, you'll enjoy the setting no matter where you sit.
Afternoon tea for two starts at £45. There is also the option for a Cornish Cream Tea at £10.50 per person.
Best described as a hidden gem, Miss Molly's Tea Room is something of hybrid, part tea shop part antique and bric a brac emporium! Inside the historical Old Dolcoath Mine Count House, you'll find a labyrinth of rooms with vintage furniture, knick knacks and objects d'art set to background music. You could easily while away hours perusing. But then, there is the matter of afternoon tea and for that, you'll need to head to Miss Molly's Tea Room.
We love the focus on traditional, home cooking here. There's a real sense of nostalgia about the place, with tea cosies on the teapots and drinks served in proper China cups with milk in jugs. Afternoon tea prices start at £12.95 per person and include fresh finger sandwiches, homemade mini cakes and scones with Cornish clotted cream and jam, with your choice of coffee or tea.
If you fancy something different, you could even arrange to have a morning tea. This high tea style breakfast includes a selection of bagels and mini home breakfast bakes (book in advance).
Open 9.30am – 5.30pm daily, 10am - 4:30pm on Sunday.
If you're looking for a modern tea room with not a doily in sight, you'll love Twisted Currant in Porthleven. Here the focus is on a friendly atmosphere with a welcoming, inclusive menu so nobody is left behind. Baker Susan honed her skills for over six years at Trevarno Gardens and is now dedicated to making her own cakes, pastries and bread on site for customers to tuck into.
Afternoon tea prices start at £17 per person, you can either book a table or order it as a takeaway if you'd rather eat on the beach. Keen to treat everyone’s tastebuds, Twisted Currant also offers a vegan afternoon tea, as well as options for those who are dairy and gluten free.
The friendly atmosphere extends to families, with babies welcomed with high chairs and free colouring and games for children. They also welcome dogs too, and staff often have a treat to hand.
Open 9am – 5pm daily, 10am – 4pm on Sunday.
Check out more things to see and do in our Guide to West Cornwall.
Where’s your favourite place to get afternoon tea in Cornwall? Let us know if we’ve missed your must-visit spot!
Speaking of which, if you’re planning your next Cornish escape, why not pick a cottage conveniently near your venue of choice and make afternoon tea a daily holiday ritual? Now there’s a tasty idea…