Italy is known the world over as the land of strong espressos, steaming percolators, and open-air cafés. The sound of milk being frothed for a cappuccino heralds the morning on many streets of Florence. In recent years, however, the concept of the traditional English afternoon tea—taken of course with scones, pastries, and other refined sweets—has hit a note with native Florentines and English-speaking expats alike. Sam Lawley reviews some of the best places to take afternoon tea in Florence.
Many cafés in Florence offer tea, which, brewed with care and attention, is not, of course, the traditional English style. But there are places in Florence that a true British-style afternoon tea or high tea experience. The following list is not exhaustive, as there may be other establishments that serve afternoon tea, but it is a good start.
Four Seasons Hotel
In the middle of the bustling city centre, the art-filled Renaissance palazzo of the Four Seasons Hotel on borgo Pinti provides an oasis of calm. Indeed, the skylight Atrium Bar offers par excellence the most luxurious afternoon tea in town. The tea itself is served in custom-made Richard Ginori china cups, each with an image of the hotel. Finger sandwiches come in a range of mouth-watering flavours: cucumber, ham and mustard, crème fraîche and salmon and scrambled eggs. Warm scones are served with clotted cream and a variety of sweet conserves. Before or after tea, guests may take a peaceful walk in the hotel’s park, one of the largest private gardens in Florence. For more information, ring 055/26261.
St. Regis Hotel
Steps from the Arno, the St. Regis Hotel offers a superb afternoon tea for a modest price. Set in a palazzo designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1432, high tea is served in the luxurious Winter Garden, complete with a soaring stained glass-ceiling and velvet cushions. Guests are presented a sumptuous spread of scones with clotted cream and jam, delicate macaroons, and smoked-salmon finger sandwiches. Cantuccini biscuits will add an Italian note to the afternoon banquet. For more information, call 055 /27163787.
The British Institute Library
What would be more English than taking afternoon tea at the British Institute’s Harold Acton Library? While perhaps relatively modest in gastronomic scope, the weekly tea parties are the perfect opportunity to meet new people, chat amongst the bookshelves and enjoy the remarkable views of the river. The library’s afternoon tea parties are held every Thursday between 4:30 and 6pm. Open to all; a minimum donation of 1 euro goes towards supporting the library. For more information, call 055/ 26778270.
La Via del Tè
This nostalgic tearoom in piazza Ghiberti could have easily been taken out of a Henry James novel and will transport customers back to the Victorian age. The range of different teas is vast: with over 300 strains available, even the most expert of tea-connoisseurs will be satisfied. The staff have acquired an extensive knowledge in their field, and are willing to offer assistance in the selection of particular teas. Afternoon tea comes with a reasonable quantity of scones, macaroons, and finger sandwiches, each one carefully hand-prepared and neatly arranged. La Via del Tè can be considered a veritable haven for tea-lovers. For more information, call 055/ 2344967.
Situated in piazza Piatellina on the Oltrarno, the Hemingway Cioccolateria & Caffetteria offers a pleasant retreat from the pressures of outside life. The interior is decorated and furnished like a study, bookshelves on one wall, and wall-sized posters of the namesake American writer on the opposite wall. An impressive variety of tea is available. Those with more curious palates will be seduced by the array of spiced teas. Opening seven days a week in the afternoon, the Hemingway Caffetteria is the perfect place to sip a well-brewed cup of afternoon tea before moving on to one of the Oltrarno’s many aperitivo bars. For more information, call 055/ 284781.
“Strange how a teapot
Can represent at the same time
The comforts of solitude
And the pleasure of company”
– Zen poem
Editorial update, November 2015: This article originally featured Teatro dell’Ozio, a tearoom on via Giovanni Lanza that is now closed.