How to throw an afternoon tea party

  • By
    Natalie Hardwick - Senior writer -

We've put together our top tips for pulling off your very own afternoon tea party with panache

Afternoon tea party

Enjoying afternoon tea while perched on a gilded hotel armchair is a fine British tradition, but hardly sustainable as a regular pursuit. Throwing your own afternoon tea party means you can stick to your own budget, plus you can select your favourite finger food. We have some suggestions for throwing a soiree in style. 

The basic kit

Cake standIf you own a tiered cake stand, dust it off and use it as the centerpiece of your table. Otherwise, use your best crockery and make it a little more special with lace-like doilies, folded napkins and name place signs.

If you want to go all out, charity shops are a good source for reasonable floral Chinaware - don't worry if the patterns are mismatched. Don't forget your teapot, teacups, cutlery and cake slices for serving.

Setting the scene

Edible bunting biscuitsExtend your table and throw on a table cloth - if you don't have one handy, fabric shops sell cheap spotted, floral and striped material by the metre. String up some bunting or, if you're feeling ambitious, bake up some edible bunting biscuits.

While you're at it, you could make some place-name cookies and ice them with your guests' names. Pop them in paper bags so your guests have a little present to take away - or just snaffle them as an entrée.
Coconut & cinnamon place-name cookies
Edible name place biscuits

Arrival drinks

Teapots and cupsMake sure the sugar and milk is set on the table ready to pour your guests a cuppa as they sit down. Try to provide a variety of tea - Earl Grey, peppermint, camomile, fruit, herbal and, of course, English Breakfast.

Iced tea makes for a more refreshing tipple in warmer weather, and adding a touch of Pimm's will really break the ice. You could also crack open the fizz and serve up a sloe gin royale or orange juice-based mimosa - all the better if you have time for a nap before dinnertime.

The spread

Afternoon tea cake standThere aren't any rules when it comes to the food, but a standard afternoon tea comprises a layer of sandwiches, a layer of cakes and a layer of scones or teacakes. However, you could also throw in pastries, petits fours or biscuits.

Don't wear yourself out by taking on too many ambitious bites, but if you feel like a challenge make sure you get your timings right.


Best ever crab sandwichesThese require minimal effort, but get ahead by preparing your fillings in advance and assembling just before proceedings begin to avoid the dreaded soggy sarnie.

Selection of summer sandwiches
Best-ever crab sandwiches
Fab sandwich fillers
Carrot & raisin sandwiches
Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich on rye bread


Apple scones with blackberry compoteScones are best eaten on the day and don't take long to whip up but if you want to get ahead, freeze a batch and defrost them in a low oven. Serve warm with lashings of jam - decant a pot of homemade preserve into a pretty bowl.


Classic scones with jam and clotted cream
Strawberry compote with sugared drop scones
Gingery buttermilk scones
Cheddar & sweetcorn scones
Apple scones with blackberry compote


Apricot & orange blossom jam
Jumbleberry jam
Angela's 'flexible' jam recipe

Teacakes and buns

Earl Grey teacakesThese should be served split and buttered - try glazing with some apricot jam to give them a professional finish.
Keep it simple:
A little effort:


Peppermint petticoat tails shortbreadShortbreads, cookies, ginger nuts… take inspiration from your childhood biscuit tin. These recipes all take less than an hour, so you can make them in the morning

Peppermint petticoat tails shortbread
Custard & white chocolate biscuits
Hazelnut crisps
Chocolate chunk pecan cookies
Ginger fairings



Vanilla custard slicesJust the mere mention of Parisian-standard pastry is enough to send shivers down the spine of your average home cook. If you're willing to take them on, prepare the pastry or biscuits the night before.

Mini eclairs
Raspberry almond bites
Raspberry, white chocolate & pistachio profiteroles
Vanilla custard slices



English madeleinesIndividual portions are the key here, so avoid making a large cake and bake up something dinky.

English madeleines
Little fig & almond cakes
Celebration cupcakes
Little coffee cakes
Cappuccino cake


lemon and lavender fondant fanciesPull out all the stops and serve up something really special.

Lemon & lavender fondant fancies
Coconut-ice marshmallows
Danish pastries
Little lemon meringue pies



Still not sated. Try the best of the rest: 

Ginger flapjacksLemon bars
Bakewell cheesecake
Ginger flapjacks
Marmalade muffins

Have you thrown your own afternoon tea party? Share your tips with us below. Or if you still need inspiration, take a look through our afternoon tea recipe collection.


Comments, questions and tips

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HansonT's picture

Nice blog to read on.Well after that,you might have some leftovers.Using leftovers isn't really that hard. You simply have to get to the frugal mindset of conserving. By doing so, you'll save yourself time and cash. Get a financial tips to help pay for your food.

ItsTtime's picture

Brilliant. America needs tea time brought back to this level of loveliness.