How to throw an afternoon tea party
Treat your guests to an afternoon tea party with panache. We've got all the advice for putting on your own spread, featuring fluffy scones, cakes, biscuits and more.
Enjoying afternoon tea perched on a gilded hotel armchair is a fine British tradition, but hardly sustainable as a regular pastime. Throwing your own party means you can control the budget and select your favourite finger food. We have some suggestions for putting on a tea party in style.
Read our tips for how to put on the best afternoon tea party below, then check out our collection of afternoon tea recipes. There’s no need to worry if you're vegan – we have plenty of inspiration with our vegan afternoon tea recipes.
As we’ve said, there are many benefits to throwing your own afternoon tea party. For starters, you don’t have to stick to purely traditional recipes. Shake things up by trying our afternoon tea recipes with a twist. Or you might want to host with as little hassle as possible. For help finding quick and easy recipes, take a look at our easiest ever afternoon tea. Not everyone has the cash to splash on a big soirée – our budget afternoon tea ideas offer great cheap-yet-stunning inspiration.
The basic kit
If you own a tiered cake stand, dust it off and make it your centrepiece. Otherwise, use your best crockery, lace-like doilies, folded napkins and place cards to make it special.
Charity shops are a good source for reasonably priced chintzy chinaware, to get that authentic ye olde tearoom look. Don't worry if the patterns are mismatched – it makes the event a little more hip. You'll need a teapot, teacups, cutlery and cake slicers for serving.
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Setting the scene
Extend your table and dress it with a tablecloth. Fabric shops sell cheap spotted, floral and striped material by the metre, which can be very effective for this. String up some bunting or, if you're feeling ambitious, bake some edible bunting biscuits.
While you're at it, you could make some name-place cookies, icing 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.
Make sure the sugar and milk is set on the table, ready to pour your guests a cuppa as they sit down. Offer a variety of teas, such as Earl Grey, chai, 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 juice-based mimosa.
Warm up with more of our comforting tea recipes.
What to have for tea
There aren't any rules when it comes to the food, but a standard afternoon tea menu comprises a tier of sandwiches, a tier of cakes and one of scones or teacakes. But you could also throw in pastries, petits-fours or biscuits.
Don't wear yourself out by taking on too many ambitious bites. If you do feel like a challenge, make sure you get your timings right.
While these require minimal effort, you can get ahead by prepping your sandwich fillings in advance, then assemble just before guests arrive to avoid the dreaded soggy sarnie.
Get inspiration for next-level sarnies from our sandwich recipes.
Scones are best eaten on the day and don't take long to make, but it may be helpful to spread the work of preparing your afternoon tea by freezing a batch, then defrosting them in a low oven. Serve warm with lashings of cream and jam – you could decant a pot of homemade preserve (see below) into a pretty bowl with a silver spoon for guests to help themselves.
See our collection of scrumptious scone recipes.
Watch our video on how to make perfectly light and fluffy scones:
From classic strawberry to zingy blackcurrant, these fruity preserves are perfect for spreading liberally over scones and teacakes...
Teacakes & buns
Popular in the UK, these fruit-filled teatime treats are thought to be a refinement of the original ‘hand bread’: a shaped roll made on a flat tin. Enjoy slathered with butter, warm or cold (both equally delicious) alongside a warming cup of tea.
Recipes requiring more effort:
Rustle up teacakes for an afternoon tea or weekend treat using inspiration from our teacake recipes.
Shortbreads, cookies, gingernuts… take inspiration from memories of your childhood biscuit tin. These recipes all take less than an hour, so you can make them on the morning of your event. Alternatively, make the dough earlier in the week and freeze to simply bake and ice on the day.
Browse more biscuit recipes.
Just the mere mention of Parisian-standard pastry is enough to send shivers down the spine of your average home baker. If you're willing to take them on, prepare the pastry or biscuits the night before your afternoon tea.
Find more perfect pâtisserie recipes.
Individual portions are key for the afternoon tea aesthetic, so bake a generous batch of dinky cakes that are prettily decorated. For a boozy twist, try our fabulous fondant fancies in three cocktail-themed flavours: strawberry daiquiri, piña colada and espresso martini.
More brilliant bakes:
Every party needs some pizzazz. And what better way to pull out all the stops and elicit some much-wanted 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from your guests than to try one of our more challenging cake recipes. Some of these bakes will be so beautiful that no one will want to take the first bite. But once you've got the ball rolling, it'll be seconds and thirds for everyone.
Try our most creative cake ideas for more interesting bakes.
More sweet treats
Oaty coconut cheesecake tart
Strawberry & elderflower semifreddo
Easy chocolate tart
Lingonberry & ginger cheesecake pots
Seville meringue pie with pomegranate
Quick & easy tiramisu
Vegan date & chocolate bread & butter pudding
While sweet treats are a huge part of an afternoon tea party menu, savoury treats are equally as important. Try savoury sandwich fillers such as egg and cress, or delicious warm quiches.
More afternoon tea ideas:
Afternoon tea recipe collection
Easiest ever afternoon tea
Budget afternoon tea ideas
Afternoon tea recipes with a twist
10 scone recipes you'll fall in love with
How to bake for a cake sale
Health benefits of rooibos tea
Or if you'd rather let someone else do the baking, see our review of the best afternoon teas in the UK.
Have you thrown your own afternoon tea party? Share your tips below...