Food & Drink

The Best Places for Afternoon Tea in Toronto

There is a proliferation of coffee shops on every available corner in Toronto, but preceding coffee’s popularity, afternoon tea once reigned supreme. The Victorian tradition is lovingly recreated in several hotel restaurants, historic buildings, and estates in the GTA and is a perfect escape from the cool fall weather.

Is afternoon tea a thing in Canada? Yes! In Canada, afternoon tea is a cherished tradition, especially in regions with strong historical ties to the United Kingdom. This reflects the deep British influence on Canadian culture. Cities like Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver are particularly famous for their elegant hotels and tea rooms that offer a delightful traditional afternoon tea experience.

You can relish a variety of teas, scones, pastries, and sandwiches served in a serene and sophisticated ambiance. This lovely tradition is enjoyed by both locals and tourists who seek a touch of British elegance and a refreshing pause in their day.

Afternoon tea originated in England as a result of the long wait from lunch to dinner, which was typically served at 8 or 9 p.m. Although often referred to as “high tea,” afternoon tea is, in fact, lighter fare, served in mid-afternoon, and focuses on tea, sandwiches, and sweets, while high tea is a full meal that includes meat, fish, eggs, or cheese, and is served around 6 p.m.

The Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea

The terms “afternoon tea” and “high tea” are often used interchangeably outside the UK, but they originally referred to two different meals with distinct characteristics:

Afternoon TeaHigh Tea
TimeTypically served in the mid-afternoon, around 3 or 4 PM.Served later in the day, around 5 or 6 PM, often replacing the evening meal.
SettingOften considered a social or special occasion event, served in a relaxed, elegant environment such as a living room or garden, or in hotels and tea rooms.More of a working-class family meal than a social event, served at a high dining table rather than in a sitting room.
FoodConsists of light fare such as scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches (like cucumber, egg salad, or smoked salmon), and a variety of cakes and pastries.More substantial dishes such as meat, fish, eggs, and baked goods like pies and tarts, along with bread, vegetables, and sometimes desserts.
BeverageServed with a selection of fine teas.Traditionally served with tea, but the focus is more on the hearty food.
PurposeOriginated in the early 19th century as a mini meal to stem the hunger before an evening meal at 8 PM. It was a social event for the upper classes.Emerged in the industrial era in Britain as the main evening meal for the working class, filling the long gap between an early breakfast and late dinner.

Today, high tea is often misused to imply an elaborate or fancy afternoon tea, especially in parts of North America and hotels worldwide.

Afternoon Tea Toronto

Many five-star hotels in Toronto offer a formal afternoon tea. Some of the best include:

  • The Windsor Arms Hotel, 18 St. Thomas Street, 416-971-9666, is a busy spot for traditional English tea, with 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. sittings Mon to Wed, and 12:45 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. sittings, Thurs to Sun. Cost is $30 per person, $38 on Sat, Sun and Holidays.
  • The Old Mill Inn and Spa, 21 Old Mill Drive, 416-207-2020, has been offering afternoon tea to pedestrians, cyclists, and canoeists since 1914. The fare includes finger sandwiches of shrimp, watercress, and fennel, cheese mushroom tartlets, lemon scones, and Devonshire cream. Mon to Fri 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sat 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sun 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. $17.95 to $20.95 per person.
  • Le Meridien King Edward Hotel, 37 King Street East, 416-863-4125. Named after Edward VII, this landmark hotel offers afternoon tea, including raisin scones, cucumber, shrimp, and salmon tea sandwiches, and chocolate tarts from Wednesday to Sun from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $30 per person.

Afternoon Tea GTA

Take a fall drive about an hour east or west of Toronto and discover the following places for afternoon tea:

  • The Drawing Room at the Prince of Wales Hotel, 6 Picton Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1-888-669-5566, provides a traditional setting for afternoon tea in this 1864 hotel, a popular Ontario wedding venue. Includes four selections of sandwiches and pastries, as well as scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. $32 per person, noon to 6 p.m. daily.
  • Langdon Hall Country House, 1 Langdon Drive, Cambridge, 1-800-268-1898, serves an afternoon tea of scones with apple butter, preserves, and heavy cream, tarragon quiche, toasted hazelnut spread with prosciutto, and dark chocolate strawberry cake. $27 per person, Fri, Sat, and Sun at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • R.S. McLaughlin Estate (Parkwood Estate), 270 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa, 905-433-4312 or 905-623-4277, is the former elegant home of the founder of General Motors Canada. Afternoon tea is served in the Greenhouse Tearoom, Tues to Sun, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Afternoon Tea Catering

Sharilene Rowland of Tea Celebrations will cater a tea party at individuals’ homes. Specializing in bridal and baby showers, retirement parties, friends’ get-togethers, garden parties, and little girls’ birthday parties, Rowland brings afternoon tea that includes scones, Devonshire cream, preserves, tea sandwiches, and sweets, along with china teapots, teacups, and linen. Prices range from $16.95 to $21.95 per person. Call 647-999-4458.

Afternoon Tea at Christmas

Muddy York Walking Tours offers afternoon tea by the fireplace at Toronto’s First Post Office, 260 Adelaide Street East, 416-487-9017, during the Christmas season. Afternoon tea is $35 per person and is served Dec 13, 14, 20, and 21, 2009, at 3:45 p.m.

Guests can enjoy traditional tea while listening to:

  • The history of early Toronto
  • The Victorian Origins of Christmas
  • Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
  • Robertson Davies’ Christmas Ghost Stories

Afternoon or high tea is making a comeback, as evidenced by the number of hotels and historic establishments in Toronto and the GTA that offer this mid-afternoon meal. Individuals who would like to experience the traditions of the Victorian era will enjoy indulging in afternoon tea at the Old Mill, Langdon Hall, Toronto’s First Post Office, or catered in the comfort of their own home.

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About the author
Growing up in Detroit, Lindsey is a Michigan State University alumnus. She feels incredibly lucky to live in Detroit, and much more, to spend her days promoting the Detroit area as a travel destination.