Essex has long been the butt of many cruel stereotypes and jokes, but this beautiful part of England – packed with medieval villages and idyllic rolling hills – holds many pleasant surprises for visitors. Essex is after all, home to the landscapes that provided inspiration to John Constable, one of England’s greatest painters. From the history-laden city of Colchester to gentle pleasures of the Essex coast, there is much to love about Essex. Essex residents are passionate about making the most of local, seasonal and natural food and new eateries are springing up all the time. Essex is home to Tiptree Jams., so you can imagine that afternoon tea is a serious ritual in the quaint tea rooms and the luxury hotels.
Wivenhoe House – Colchester
Wivenhoe House is a grand country house hotel set in in the grounds of Wivenhoe Park. The hotel – a restored 18th Century Essex country house with a modern wing attached – is unique because it is part of the University of Essex campus and is home to the Edge Hotel School. Here students sharpen their skills while creating unforgettable experiences for guests. Afternoon tea is a taste adventure where the menu is constantly tweaked with new delicious twists added to heighten the traditional afternoon tea experience. Tea is served in the luxurious hotel lounges or in the Garden Room restaurant where modern lighting and solid oak flooring creates a vibrant, airy atmosphere. The three-tier tea menu is always full of surprises, with for instance, dill marinated cucumber and black pepper cream cheese instead of the standard cucumber sandwich. Scones are never plain, you can expect freshly baked apple and cinnamon scones served with citrus curd, clotted cream and Tiptree strawberry jam. The cakes are all enhanced versions of classic afternoon tea pastries – served with inventive presentation.
Maison Talbooth – Dedham
Maison Talbooth is a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant near near Colchester. The handsome country house is set in landscaped grounds overlooking the famous Constable Dedham Vale. Afternoon tea can be taken on terrace, next to the pool or in the comfortable lounge and elegant garden room, with a choice of a traditional or a champagne menu. The traditional tea includes freshly-brewed tea in a lovely china tea pot, a range of sandwiches, home-made scones and a selection of cakes to finish. The sandwiches are made with good fresh ingredients (smoked salmon, ham and mustard, cucumber and egg and cress sandwiches) and fresh soft bread. The crumbly and warm home-made scones are served with fruity Tiptree jam and cream. A beautifully presented cake stand is crowded with an assortment of traditional and contemporary treats including a Battenberg, Swiss roll, Baileys profiteroles, triple chocolate and walnut brownies and pavlova bursting with fresh fruit. All in all a balanced and thoughtful menu served with professional panache in a tranquil setting.
West Street Vineyard – Coggeshall
If you love wine and afternoon tea you can combine them with a visit to a unique concept vineyard in the heart of historic Coggeshall. The West Street vineyard is based on the food and wine tasting experiences offered by vineyards in South Africa and New Zealand. Guests can sample over 50 English wines in a peaceful rural setting overlooking the vineyard and the River Blackwater. The vineyard buildings favour clean modern lines and contemporary décor that lets the food and wine do all the talking. You can also combine a wine tasting experience with a sumptuous afternoon tea served with the vineyard’s own sparkling wine. If you give them 24-hours notice to freshly make all the menu items you can enjoy a lovely array of traditional finger sandwiches, a variety of home made cakes and lovely scones served with clotted cream and East Anglian preserves. The loose leaf tea is from England’s only tea producer the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall and the cake selection favours confections bursting with fresh fruity flavours.
Greenwoods Hotel (Stock)
In the picturesque village of Stock you’ll find one of the best afternoon teas in Essex. The Greenwood hotel and spa is a handsome 17th Century, Grade II listed manor house with lovely spacious gardens. Afternoon tea is served in their gracious lounge every day from 2pm to 7pm. The wood panelled lounge is decorated eclectically with a tartan patterned carpet and luxurious couches in many different shades, the overall effect is cheerful sophistication. The lounge opens onto a terrace with views of the garden. and has its own bar with glamorous chandeliers. The staff are attentive and quick to promote the tea menu which they appear to be very proud of. Tea is served on white china, with the food crammed onto a traditional three-tier cake stand. The scones take the top layer, both fruit and plain are offered with clotted cream and jam. The bottom tier is for finger sandwiches, with Wiltshire ham, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber. The middle layer is a colourful collection of éclairs and cupcakes with Battenberg cake and other creamy sweet delights.
Roslyn Beach Hotel (Southend)
For a lavish coastal afternoon tea overlooking the Thames estuary, the Roslyn Beach Hotel offers a cosmopolitan English experience. The rather plain exterior of this hotel is in contrast to the mature elegance you’ll find inside. The chic New-England beach house feel is soothing and luxurious with fabrics in muted shades of gold and grey, a lot of cream and brown shades of painted and natural wood, wicker chairs and fresh flowers everywhere. Both the lounge and the enclosed terrace offer panoramic views of the estuary. Service here is warm and welcoming and as swift as the wind that sweeps the coast outside. Afternoon tea comes with a choice of English tea or Starbucks coffee which is served on the prettiest bone china. A three-tiered cake stand is filled with a tempting array of delicacies including finger sandwiches with a selection of fillings, fruit scones with Devonshire clotted cream and an assortment of Tiptree jams. An appealing collection of fresh fruit tarts, and chocolate covered treats finishes this polished example of traditional British culture.