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.

Afternoon tea sandwiches on two tiers

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. 

The basic kit

If you own a tiered cake stand, dust it off and use it for the centrepiece. Otherwise, use your best crockery and make it a little more special with lace-like doilies, folded napkins and name place cards.

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.

See our guide for tips on all the essential baking equipment you'll need.

Setting the scene

Bunting shaped biscuits in white and pink patterns

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.

Coconut & cinnamon name-place cookies
Edible name-place biscuits

Arrival drinks

Ginger tea in a white mug along with honey on a plate and macaroons on a plate

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, like Earl Grey, chaipeppermint, 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.

See our tea collection.

The spread

There aren't any rules when it comes to the food, but a standard afternoon tea comprises a tier of sandwiches, a tier of cakes and one 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.


Sandwiches

Selection of afternoon tea sandwiches and buns

While these require minimal effort, you can get ahead by prepping your fillings in advance, then assemble just before guests arrive to avoid the dreaded soggy sarnie.

Selection of summer sandwiches
Egg & cress club sandwich
Carrot & raisin sandwiches
Salmon club sandwich
Best ever crab sandwiches
Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich on rye bread
Katsu sandos

Get more super sandwich ideas.


Scones

Fruit scones on a wire rack, cut open and served with jam and clotted cream

Scones are best eaten on the day and don't take long to whip up, 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.

Scones: 

Classic scones with jam & clotted cream
Fruit scones
Lemon drizzle scones
Walnut scones
Cherry scones

See our collection of scrumptious scone recipes.

Watch our video on how to make perfectly light and fluffy scones:

Jams

From classic strawberry to zingy blackurrant, these fruity preserves are perfect for spreading liberally over scones and teacakes:


Strawberry jam
Raspberry jam
Easy cherry jam
Rhubarb & ginger jam
Cinnamon-scented plum jam
Blackcurrant jam

Discover even more jam recipes.

Teacakes & buns

Toasted tea cakes split in halves and buttered

Give buns a professional finish by glazing them with apricot jam, then serve sliced or split and buttered.
 
Simple recipes:
Teacakes
Tea loaf
Recipes requiring more effort:

Get more inspiration from our teacakes collection.
 

Biscuits

Three lines of shortbread biscuits
 
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.

Sugared flower shortbreads
Basic cookies
Carrot cake cookies
Ginger cookie sandwiches with lemon mascarpone
Coconut nice
Strawberry & cream roly polys

Browse more biscuit recipes.

            

Pâtisserie

Raspberry millefeuille recipe

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.

Raspberry millefeuilles
Mini eclairs
Bakewell tarts
Chinon apple tarts
Next level bakewell tart
Salted caramel & popcorn crumble choux buns
Creme brulée tartlets
Cannoli

Find more perfect patisserie recipes.
 

Cakes

Coffee, pina colada and strawberry daiquiri fondant fancies on a wire rack

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, pina colada and espresso martini.

More brilliant bakes:

Coffee & walnut flapjacks
Banoffee traybake
Blood orange & poppy drizzle muffins
Easy caramel cake
Little pistachio cakes
Coconut chai traybake
Strawberry & polenta cupcakes


Showstoppers

Multilayer hummingbird cake topped with icing and flowers

Pull out all the stops and serve up something really special with some of our more challenging showstopper cakes.

Spiced hummingbird cake
Sea-salted chocolate & pecan tart
Blood orange & dark chocolate madeleines
Star anise meringues with mango coulis
Apple rose tart
Raspberry, lemon and frangipane tart
Iced vanilla & caramel profiteroles

Get more creative baking ideas.
 

The best of the rest: 

Three tea and biscuit cheesecake bars with caramel and biscuit sprinkle topping

Tea & biscuit cheesecake bars
Lemon bars
Doughnut muffins
Gypsy tart with lemon cream
Lingonberry & ginger cheesecake pots
Seville meringue pie with pomegranate
Quick & easy tiramisu
Bourbon, black cherry & bacon brownies

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

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...

Comments, questions and tips

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ItsTtime
18th Oct, 2013
Brilliant. America needs tea time brought back to this level of loveliness.
toot
19th Mar, 2015
How can I save these lovely ideas in order to choose and plan at a later date?
Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.