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Afternoon tea sandwiches on two tiers

How to throw an afternoon tea party

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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.

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Read our tips for how to put on the best afternoon tea party below, and then also check out our collection of afternoon tea recipes. There’s no need to worry if you're vegan, as 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. Alternatively, you might want to host but want 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.

Planning an afternoon tea party to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee this year? Browse our ideas for jubilee recipes and find tips on how to throw a street party.

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

Biscuit bunting

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.

More like this

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

Arrival drinks

A table with multiple teas, including a glass teapot

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.

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

Layered sandiwches

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
Egg-less mayo sandwiches
Salmon club sandwich
Best ever crab sandwiches
Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich on rye bread
Katsu sandos

Get inspiration for next-level sarnies from our sandwich recipes.

Scones

Scones 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
Rhubarb & custard scones
Walnut scones
Bakewell tart scones

See our collection of scrumptious scone recipes.

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

Jams

Two jars of apple jam

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

Strawberry jam
Raspberry jam
Easy cherry jam
Rhubarb & ginger jam
Apple jam
Blackcurrant jam
Greengage jamDiscover even more jam recipes.

Teacakes & buns

Loaf of bara brith with orange, ginger and chocolate

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.

Simple recipes:

Teacakes
Tea loaf
Dark chocolate, orange & ginger bara brith
Easy iced buns

Recipes requiring more effort:

Earl Grey teacakes
Stollen buns
St Lucia saffron buns
Cinnamon date, honey & pistachio babka buns

Rustle up teacakes for an afternoon tea or weekend treat using inspiration from our teacake recipes.

Biscuits

Biscuits with pastel icing and flowers

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
Linzer cookies
Carrot cake cookies
Ginger cookie sandwiches with lemon mascarpone
Berry & chocolate loaded cookies
Strawberry & cream roly polys

Browse more biscuit recipes.

Pâtisserie

Tower of cake with cream and strawberries

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 religieuse
Mini eclairs
Vanilla custard slices
Chinon apple tarts
Next level bakewell tart
Salted caramel & popcorn crumble choux buns
Creme brulée tartlets
Cannoli

Find more perfect pâtisserie recipes.

Cakes

3 coloured cakes on a cooling 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:

Rose & pistachio cacen ffenest
Vegan simnel cake
Blood orange & poppy drizzle muffins
Easy caramel cake
Mini Victoria sponges
Coconut chai traybake
Strawberry & polenta cupcakes

Showstoppers

Flowered cake on a cake stand

Every party needs some pizzaz. And what better way to pull out all the stops and elicit some much-wanted oohs and aahs 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.

Spiced hummingbird cake
Sea-salted chocolate & pecan tart
Blood orange & dark chocolate madeleines
Star anise meringues with mango coulis
Jubilee cake
Raspberry, lemon and frangipane tart
Vegan blueberry & lime tart

Try our most creative cake ideas for more interesting bakes.

More sweet treats

Tart with cream and passionfruit

Oaty coconut cheesecake tart
Strawberry & elderflower semifreddo
Doughnut muffins
Easy chocolate tart
Lingonberry & ginger cheesecake pots
Seville meringue pie with pomegranate
Quick & easy tiramisu
Vegan date & chocolate bread & butter pudding

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.

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