So, what is Afternoon Tea, exactly? Well, it means real tea (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Ceylon, Darjeeling, or Assam) brewed in a china pot, and served with china cups and saucers, milk, lemon, and silver spoons, between 3 and 5:30 pm.

For the full experience there should be elegant finger foods on a three-tiered cake stand: crustless sandwiches on the bottom; fruit scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam in the middle; and rich cakes, shortbread, patisseries, macaroons, and fancies on top.

Tea-goers dress smartly (though not ostentatiously) and a certain level of decorum is, of course, expected.

Claridge’s. The hallowed tradition is given a sophisticated, contemporary twist at Claridge’s, where your teatime companions are more likely to be film stars and supermodels than aristocrats. Afternoon tea is £38 and Champagne tea is £49. Dress code is elegant smart casual, so no need to starch your collar or polish those pearls. Brook St., Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR. 020/7629-8860. Served daily 3, 3:30, 5, and 5:30. Tube: Bond St.

The Dorchester. Amid a maze of marble and gold leaf, tea in the Promenade is best taken on comfy sofas and to the sound of the resident pianist. Afternoon tea is £38.50, Champagne tea is £46.50. Book well ahead. 53 Park La., London, W1K 1QA. 020/7629-8888. Reservations essential. Served daily 2:30 and 4:45. Tube: Hyde Park Corner.

Fortnum & Mason. Upstairs at the venerable 300-year-old store (grocer to the Queen), three set teas are ceremoniously served: afternoon tea (£35), old-fashioned high tea (a traditional light meal, £37), and Champagne tea (priced according to Champagne). St. James’s Restaurant, 4th fl., 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London, W1A 1ER. 020/7734-8040. Served Mon.-Sat. 2-7, Sun. noon-4:30. Tube: Green Park.

The Ritz. At the Ritz tea is served in the impressive Palm Court, with marble tables and Louis XIV chaises complete with musical accompaniment, providing an authentic taste of Edwardian London in the 21st century. Afternoon tea is £52 and Champagne tea £54. Reserve two to three months ahead and remember to wear a jacket and tie. 150 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London, W1J 9BR. 020/7300-2309. Reservations essential. Served daily 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7:30. Tube: Green Park.

The Wolseley. The giddying, sumptuous dining room at the Wolseley has barely changed since the 1920s, and it remains as fashionable a hangout as it was in its roaring heyday. Afternoon tea is £21 and champagne tea £30. You can usually get a booking up to a few days ahead. 160 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London, W1J 9ER. 020/7499-6996. Served weekdays 3-6:30, Sat. 3:30-5, Sun. 3:30-6:30. Tube: Green Park.