How to throw an afternoon tea party

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.


These 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
Carrot & raisin sandwiches
Salmon club sandwich
Best-ever crab 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
Lemon drizzle scones
Walnut scones
Cherry scones

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


Strawberry jam
Jumbleberry jam
Rhubarb & ginger jam
Cinnamon-scented plum jam
Fragrant strawberry conserve


Teacakes and buns

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


Shortbreads, 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.

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



Just 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.

Raspberry millefeuilles
Mini eclairs
Chinon apple tarts
Salted caramel & popcorn crumble choux buns
Creme brulee tartlets



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

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



Pull out all the stops and serve up something really special.

Blood orange & dark chocolate madeleines
Star anise meringues with mango coulis
Apple rose tart
Raspberry, lemon and frangipane tart
Iced vanilla & caramel profiteroles


Still not sated? Try the best of the rest: 

Ginger flapjacksLemon 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


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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18th Oct, 2013
Brilliant. America needs tea time brought back to this level of loveliness.
19th Mar, 2015
How can I save these lovely ideas in order to choose and plan at a later date?
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