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
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, like 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.
See our tea collection.
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.
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.
Get more super sandwich ideas.
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.
See our collection of scrumptious scone recipes.
Watch our video on how to make perfectly light and fluffy scones:
From classic strawberry to zingy blackurrant, these fruity preserves are perfect for spreading liberally over scones and teacakes:Strawberry jam
Easy cherry jam
Rhubarb & ginger jam
Cinnamon-scented plum jam
Discover even more jam recipes.
Teacakes & buns
Give buns a professional finish by glazing them with apricot jam, then serve sliced or split and buttered.
Recipes requiring more effort:
Get more inspiration from our teacakes collection.
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 patisserie 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, pina colada and espresso martini.
More brilliant bakes:
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:
Tea & biscuit cheesecake bars
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:
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…