Tea Time

Traditional English-style afternoon teas tied to characters (and sometimes other properties) have represented a growing piece of the experiential-licensing landscape since the mid-2010s, at least in some parts of the world, with a particularly notable burst of activity beginning in 2019. Even during the pandemic, at least between lockdowns, a few licensed afternoon teas were open for business in some form.

These live events mostly take place in the U.K., but also occur in other regions, especially Asia. The centerpiece of most is the treats themselves, including the intricate sandwiches, cakes, and pastries of a traditional high tea, albeit with a licensed spin. Other elements tied to the property can be integrated into the mix as well, such as character appearances, character-themed tableware, activities, gift bags, and the like. The teas are often offered for a limited time, ultimately replaced by other themes. But some come back again and again or become permanent fixtures. Many take place in hotels, although tea shops, cafés, and mobile or pop-up shops also serve as venues.

Characters associated with afternoon teas tend to fall into three main categories:

  • English literary characters. Peter Rabbit is the focus of a themed tea created in collaboration with Penguin Ventures, introduced at Le Méridien Picadilly Hotel (now the Dilly) in 2019 and continuing today. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory was the foundation for a tea at One Aldwych, under license from the Roald Dahl Story Company. Peter Pan starred in an afternoon tea at Aqua Shard, in collaboration with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, owner of the J.M. Barrie-penned property. And Hong Kong’s AMMO hosted a Mr. Men and Little Miss tea to mark the opening of the Mr. Men Studio shop in the city, billed as the world’s first shop dedicated to the Roger Hargreaves characters (licensed by Sanrio).There have also been non-licensed examples inspired by properties in the public domain, such as the Sanderson London’s Alice in Wonderland and Aqua Shard’s Mary Poppins teas.
  • Kawaii properties from Japan. Not surprisingly, the Sanrio characters lead the way in this classification. Cutter & Squidge of London launched its first Hello Kitty afternoon tea in 2016 and offered a take-away version during the pandemic. The Hello Kitty Grand Café, which opened in 2018 in Southern California, features an afternoon tea, alongside its regular themed menu. Taipei’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel has offered teas with Sanrio characters such as My Melody and Little Twin Stars, while Tokyo’s Egg & Spuma created a tea service in 2020 featuring Kuromi and My Melody. Beyond Sanrio, San-X’s Rilakkuma was at the center of an afternoon tea service at Hong Kong’s Vive Cake Boutique, which has also created teas with Sanrio characters.
  • Disney. Most recently, London’s Lanesborough Hotel hosted a high tea called “It’s A Little Bit Mad,” based on the Disney film Cruella, which debuted the day the movie was released, May 28, and is running for six weeks. The Kensington Hotel offered an afternoon tea titled “A Tale As Old As Time,” based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, featuring treats tied to lyrics from the film’s music and dishware in the image of the Mrs. Potts and Chip Potts characters. Disney also offers afternoon tea at its Walt Disney World Floridian Grand hotel.

Examples occasionally exist beyond these three dominant character categories. Peppa Pig, a quintessentially British television series that seems to go hand-in-hand with afternoon tea, is the star of a tea service with Brigit’s Bakery that was announced in August 2020. It takes place on a London double-decker bus that passes the city’s famous landmarks as participants enjoy their treats.

Teas are sometimes built around licensed properties outside of the character realm as well. Artist Yayoi Kusama paired this past May with both Rosewood London and the Tate for afternoon teas featuring treats inspired by her colorful polka dot-driven artwork and timed to her Infinity Mirror Rooms exhibit at the Tate. Meanwhile, The Berkeley has a long-running afternoon tea called “Prêt à Portea,” which has offered treats tied to different fashion designers each season, including the likes of Christian Dior (2019) and Jimmy Choo (2014). Its post-lockdown return features sweets inspired by individual designs of Donatella Versace, Tod’s, Valentino, Isabel Marant, LoveShackFancy, and Halpern, as well as a cookie mirroring fashion editor Anna Wintour’s distinctive look.

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