With director Tim Burton's film version of Alice in Wonderland hitting the cinema screens worldwide, it's not just the flamboyant Mad Hatter, played on this occasion by versatile actor Johnny Depp, who is throwing wonderful tea parties. Today, what is still seen as a quintessentially British experience, afternoon tea is the rage around the globe.
Who can resist huge pots of fragrant tea, fruit-rich scones with a lashing of jam and cream and fancy cupcakes?
The introduction of afternoon tea is usually credited to the seventh duchess of Bedford in the early 1830s. The duchess grew hungry between an early luncheon and a late dinner and conceived the idea of a separate light meal.
This was served in her boudoir during mid-afternoon and soon became popular with guests.
Today afternoon tea provides the perfect pick-me-up after a long day of shopping in London or New York, a chance to chat with friends in an exotic environment or just a well-deserved treat.
So next time the clock strikes 4, be like the White Rabbit and remember you've got a very important date and choose from these places for that perfect tea time.
The Tea Cosy
George Street, Brighton
With its British royal memorabilia and regal connections, this quaint little café on England's east coast at seaside Brighton offers much more than just pots of tea and cakes. The decor and antique pieces inside are all offered with "tongue in cheek". At the stroke of 4 each day, the pianist plays, with great flourishes, the British national anthem and all present must rise. Union Jacks and photos of Queen Elizabeth and her family adorn the walls. Choose from a menu which includes The Queen Mother Afternoon Cream Tea or The Coronation High Tea. Whichever menu you decide to indulge in, you'll be treated to a variety of dainty sandwiches, with crusts removed, scones and cakes, including the ever-popular strawberry-and-cream Victoria sponge. To make sure the tea stays hot, the teapots all come with knitted cosies.
Sahn Eddar Lounge
Burj Al Arab, Dubai
Everyone who enters this stunning building, known as the only seven-star hotel in the world, feels privileged. But those who decide to indulge in afternoon tea are in for a real surprise. At the Sahn Eddar Lounge, you'll be treated to a symphony of sensual experiences — classical music soothes the ear, marble, glittering mosaics and soft furnishing relax the eye and a delicious array of sweet offerings treat the taste buds. Set at the base of the world's tallest atrium, against the backdrop of a magnificent water display and gilded adornments, guests are encouraged to linger at their leisure with tea or coffee, all served in an impeccable style.
Al Fayrooz Lounge
Al Qasr, Dubai
The exquisite hospitality of Arab culture and the magic of the Middle East are brought together at Al Fayrooz Lounge. Allow the world to spin around you outside as the luxury and tranquillity inside Al Fayrooz Lounge envelopes you. Bathed in rich amber tones and furnished with plush sofas and regal armchairs, this is the setting for high tea in grand style. Sit with family and friends and celebrate the majesty of the moment as a waiter serves you steaming tea from silver pots and a selection of savoury and sweet treats. The setting is, without doubt, perfect for romance as you watch the Sun set through the tall windows.
The Winter Palace, Luxor, Egypt
Return to the style of the 1920s, when, after working in the hot Egyptian desert, English archaeologists took a relaxing break with tea. The Nile Terrace looks out directly to the river at Luxor. As the Sun sets over the Egyptian mountains, the water of the Nile takes on a golden glow and the feluccas glide past behind green date palms. The waiters, dressed in white uniforms with gold braids and red fez hats, deliver the tea on silver trays before ceremoniously pouring it into cups. For an Egyptian touch, try tea with mint leaves. The effect is refreshing. The English left a legacy of sweet treats in Egypt and you'll find plenty of rich cakes, including the apple and cinnamon tea cake, to tempt you.
111 Spring Street Restaurant
Windsor Hotel, Melbourne
Revered by Melbourne residents and discerning visitors from around the world, the Hotel Windsor has been delighting guests for more than 127 years with afternoon tea. Served in silver pots, with three-tiered cake stands and porcelain teacups, afternoon tea at the Windsor includes delicious salmon-and-cream cheese-finger sandwiches, exquisite cakes, including carrot and walnut, with classic scones, jam and clotted cream. They are accompanied by a choice of more than a dozen varieties of tea. Choose from Earl Grey, Prince of Wales or Darjeeling. Freshly brewed coffee is also available. The experience is especially popular on weekends, when the selection is extended to include a Chocolate Indulgence experience.
Visit www.thehotelwindsor.com.au for details.
Mount Lavinia Hotel, Sri Lanka
With its long heritage of British rule and the extensive tea plantations across its mountainous terrain, Sri Lanka is the perfect place for enjoying this very traditional and British pastime. Taking their cue from the late afternoon breezes, which come in off the palm-fringed Sri Lankan coast, the immaculately dressed waiters in their white and saffron-red uniforms serve guests gathered on the open terrace for the famed Governor's High Tea. It's as much an institution for locals as it is for visitors. Voted one of the "World's best gathering places" by Newsweek magazine, The Terrace is a place which exudes irresistible charm and allure. Sit in style as you drink pure, locally grown Ceylon tea, with its distinctive golden colour and light aroma. In a tradition which goes back to the time of British rule, the plates are piled high with scones topped with jam and clotted cream, butter-rich cupcakes and dainty finger sandwiches.
Visit www.mountlaviniahotel.com for details.