Pink tea trolley next to pink sofa, patio, sea view

A Brief History of the Tea Trolley

black tea trolly on roof top with city view

Whet your whistle with a minimalist take on a traditional trend — the tea trolley. Slowly wheeling its way back into our homes, the tea trolley is one of our favourite items of furniture.
Not only is it practical and stylish, but it’s also got a great history. We're spilling the tea.

Read on to learn more.

a man kisses a woman on the cheek, preparing a drink, black and white photo, from the 1930s

Tea Trolley Origins

To find the origins of this quirky portable table, we need to head back to Victorian England.

Tea trolleys were first popularised here, in the late 1800s. Upper-class ladies, who were then confined to homemaking, would spend their time at home doing just that.

Their maids or servants would wheel in the trolley at tea time. It would carry a selection of teas like Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea, as well as afternoon tea snacks like finger sandwiches and biscuits. 

As the upper-class habits spilled into the middle-class habits, the tea trolley became an increasingly common fixture across homes in England throughout the Victorian era and beyond. Its practical use popularised it even in America.

tea trolley with coffee gears in hotel room


Though come the 1920’s, the tea trolley’s aristocratic and quaint origins would take a turn thanks to the prohibition era. This ran from 1920 to 1933 in the United States. It banned the production, importation, and sale of alcoholic drinks.

The prohibition didn’t really stop American’s from drinking. It drove them into speakeasies and each other’s homes to drink bootlegged beverages. And what better to cart your booze around on than a purpose-built drinks cart?

The Great Depression caused strife and pain for many families across America. A cocktail cart, as it became known, was a luxury. The tea trolley once again became a status symbol for wealth and luxury.

Cocktail carts became synonymous with the Hollywood and New York elite.

This luxurious connotation was amplified by the materials they used. Formal cocktail carts were made of expensive woods like mahogany and walnut. They would often have intricate gold detailing or accents.

The second world war only made something as simple as a tea trolley more unattainable for thousands of Americans.

Though, in Britain, they remained popular, particularly within the NHS for practical uses. Tea time remained a popular tradition, even throughout the war period.


Cocktail carts boomed in popularity in post-war America as a new era of prosperity arrived. Entertaining became a fixture of everyday life again after decades of war and poverty.

This is where the Mad Men era of drinks trolleys stems from. Synonymous with class and oozing suave, tea trolley carts were used by everyone from housewives to businessmen.

They became increasingly popular to use outside the home too. They appeared in high-end restaurants and bars as often as they did at home. 

Much of the Hollywood glamour vibe comes from this era. Cocktail carts became a frequent prop in movies. They starred alongside Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few. 

As countries began to recover economically from the war, homes had more spare income. This actually led to a decrease in popularity for the tea trolley. Homeowners began to build their own bars.

It wasn’t until we began to nostalgically look back on the 1950s that the cocktail cart began increasing in popularity again. In fact, we can probably thank the wild popularity of shows like Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for the resurgence in popularity. 

Tea trolly with drinks next to the swimming pool

Jump on the Trend

Which leads us to today. Tea trolleys are chic once again, and we’re delighted to hear it. With an emphasis on style, versatility, and functionality, tea trolleys are the perfect furniture piece to take entertaining to the next level (even if it’s just for show)! 

To find your perfect piece, browse our range of stylish, minimalist furniture online.