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How Italian Afternoon Tea Became a Thing

The concept of afternoon tea is, to most people, an entirely English affair. It brings to mind images of finger sandwiches, porcelain tea cups, fresh scones and, in more modern terms, modest glasses of Prosecco.

And, of course, no afternoon tea is complete without polite English discourse about the weather, peppered with the gossip of the week.

However, afternoon tea is not an activity enjoyed solely by English ladies. After all, we at Cucina Rustica offer our own Italian Afternoon Tea every day from 12pm to 5pm.

As such, we thought we’d look into how this English tradition came to Italy in the first place.


Photo: www.babingtons.com

To trace this odd mix of cultures, we need to go all the way back to the 1800’s. Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington, two English ladies of nobility, arrived in Rome in 1893 with all of their combined savings and a singular dream in mind.

They wanted to open a tearoom in Rome, called The Babingtons. At a time when practically no one was drinking tea purely for enjoyment in Italy, this indeed was a dream.

Fortunately, and partly due to the existing Anglo-Saxon community in Rome at the time, the tearoom quickly became very popular.

It was soon known as the ultimate destination for the English Grand Tour and was eventually moved to Piazza di Spagna. Here, it became solidified as the go-to location for the citizens in Rome with more refined tastes.

The Babingtons tea room would go on to withstand the First World War, the fascist rule of Mussolini, The Second World War, and all of the resulting economic recessions – remaining open for business all the while.


The Babingtons tea room is still open for business to this day. It has become a hugely popular tourist attraction for visitors (especially the English ones) to Rome. In fact, it’s still run by the descendants of one of its originators, Isabel.

Due to the undeniable success of Babingtons, and the resulting popularity which spread throughout Italy, afternoon tea eventually came full-circle and returned to England.

Much like a wayward traveler, it came back with a touch of the culture in which it had spent so much time. A distinct Italian flair in the form of additions like focaccia and grilled vegetables.


If a visit to Rome isn’t in the cards for you right now, then we’ve got some good news. You can get an authentic Italian tea room experience in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter!

Visit Cucina Rustica from 12pm to 5pm and you can experience first-hand the blend of English tradition and Italian expertise.

To find our more please visit here.


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