Part of English tradition, afternoon tea is the perfect way to celebrate life events, indulge with some sweet treats, or simply have a relaxing afternoon with friends. It’s also a fantastic option for home entertaining, especially during the current pandemic. Although it may sound like a daunting task, with the right preparation it is a lot easier than you’d think. Plus when hosting at home you can personalise it for your guests’ tastes, apply a fun theme if you wish & make it budget-friendly compared to dining out!
If you’re tempted to host a homemade afternoon tea – do it! I’ve put together a guide & tips to make it really simple and enjoyable.
Guests, location & invitations
Firstly work out the number of guests you wish to entertain, remember the more people you invite the more food to prepare and potential dietary requirements you may need to consider, as well as requiring more crockery, chairs, and the cost of all of these. For my Tea Party, I decided to settle on 4 attendees (including myself), which was a very manageable number. On this occasion I didn’t create a theme for the guests or menu, instead choosing to go with a more traditional affair, simply altered for individual preferences.
Afternoon tea can be extremely pretty to host outdoors on a terrace or in a gorgeous flowering garden. Gazebos or umbrellas can provide shade from the sun or protect from standard unpredictable British weather! If the weather turns, think about an indoor option to relocate to. Also, ensure your guests will have adequate space at the table to enjoy their tea & food, as well as display space for all of the delicious treats you have prepared for them.
Once the date & location were selected I sent out invitations, and importantly asked guests to R.S.V.P and let me know of any dietary needs.
Serveware & table settings
Whilst you await the responses from your guests it’s the perfect time to think about the table settings and serveware you will use on the day. Depending on the number of guests you may not have sufficient regular crockery to use. Thankfully matching teaware is no longer a requirement, why not go with a cute clash of prints and styles!
If you need to pick up additional places charity shops can have amazing bargains for tea-sets, kitsch plates, teapots, cake stands, and even decorations. For a fun twist, especially if you are short of cups, is to ask your guests to bring along their favourite teacup/mug for the party. This can be a great ice breaker as you find out what everyone brings and why they are their favourites!
Other essentials are a teapot & strainer (if not built-in), milk jug, sugar bowl, bowls for cream/jam, a jug of water & glasses, individual plates, cutlery, napkins, and a cake stand or platters for the food spread.
I am lucky to own a gorgeous 2-tiered cake stand which reminds me of one my Nanny had when I was younger. When I spotted it I couldn’t resist buying it, and although it’s not used daily it was a wonderful investment for a statement centrepiece. I have also acquired a variety of serving platters over the years. I’d highly recommend that you gradually build up your selection if you enjoy entertaining.
There are a plethora of options for drinks to serve as you entertain. A lovely welcome glass of Prosecco/Champagne is a lovely indulgent start to a fun afternoon and Gin & Tonic pairs really well with afternoon tea. Bear in mind if your guests are driving and remember to offer water, soft drinks, and coffee as well.
Of course, the star of the drinks should be tea! The first selection is between using tea bags or loose leaf tea. This may depend on the type of teapot you have, guest preference and tea selections. I like to make a large pot of loose leaf tea for everyone to share, but this does mean that all the guests will largely have no choice of the tea they drink. If your guests would all like to have different tea types, teabags may be more suitable. Remember to have a tea timer to hand if you want to serve the perfect brew for whichever you select.
Darjeeling teas are often said to go best with sweet cakes whereas Earl Grey with it’s Bergamot notes will pair better with savoury food. So you could also consider serving a tea pairing with the courses, switching from Afternoon tea blend, to Earl Grey, over to a Darjeeling black tea and then maybe followed up with a Mint tea after the meal!
The final piece of the puzzle is the most exciting to organise & the cornerstone of the event – the menu! I enjoy creating this after I have had the responses from the guests, so I can bear in mind their preferences and then produce a printed menu for each place setting. The menu served at an Afternoon Tea is traditionally sandwiches, followed by scones and then sweet treats in the form of pastries, cakes, and other patisseries.
Sandwiches can be made using white or brown bread & I’d recommend making some of both if you aren’t sure of your guests’ preferences. The only traditional rule is that they must have the crusts removed as Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who is famed with creating afternoon tea insisted on this!
With my guests’ preferences in mind, I opted for 3 sandwich options and 2 additional savoury bites to be more appealing to their tastes. I did a selection of coronation chicken and tuna mayonnaise with cucumber (some without!) on wholemeal bread and then an open rye-bread sandwich topped with cream cheese & smoked salmon in a Scandinavian style. These are all best made on the day, to avoid the British classic of a soggy sarnie, but you can make these whilst the scones are baking and cover for later.
In summer I really enjoy a Caprese salad as a light and refreshing dish, so for an Afternoon Tea twist I made Caprese skewers! These gave a lovely pop of colour to the table and are super simple to make by layering up a cherry tomato, mini mozzarella ball and basil on a food-safe small skewer. To add another cheese savoury to the platter I made some quick filo tartlets, using ready-made pastry, layered with some cranberry sauce and topped with a small chunk of camembert that melted beautifully as they baked! Remember to make all these bites nice and dainty!
Scones are best baked on the day and serving them warm adds a level of professionalism (and deliciousness!) A great tip if you are short for time is to freeze a homemade batch made earlier and defrost them in a low oven to still serve up warm on the day.
I like to give people a portion size of 2 scones and therefore serve 2 different types. For this occasion I went with two sweet varieties, plain and fruit, served with jam (strawberry is traditional) and clotted cream.
You could however produce a combination of a sweet and a savoury scones. I enjoy a pumpkin cheese scone a lot in autumn! If serving a savoury option, don’t forget to put out butter and or chutney alongside the clotted cream & jam!
The final element of the afternoon tea is the most complicated but for me the most fun! Sweet treats! Once again these should be small, individual portions so if you choose to go with a cake and make a large one remember to portion it up for ease or bake them in smaller sizes. The biggest portion size I’d make would be a cupcake.
For my sweet options, I went with a selection of 4 balanced items that were my versions of some of the guests’ favourite treats! Thankfully none of them were elaborate patisserie morsels, but it can be fun to attempt these for your friends & family, who are bound to be a very forgiving audience should something go awry.
My first two items were cake based, but with the correct sizes and clever use of citrus to lighten the flavours it didn’t feel too heavy. Firstly, I used one of my favourite baking purchases (Lakeland) to make individual lemon Victoria sponge cakes sandwiched together with fresh buttercream and a tart lemon & gin curd!
Then I made vanilla cupcakes topped with Prosecco infused buttercream and edible sparkles. By making two cakes dishes, I was able to make one big batch of cake batter. Then separate it into two bowls & add the different flavours – a handy tip to take the pressure off on the day!
Remember not all of your guests may have a sweet tooth, so adding a nibble that is a sweet savoury is a good idea. For instance, I decided to make mini Pumpkin pie bites. I’ll admit I used store-bought pastry for this, as with all of the components that was an added layer of stress to avoid!
The last addition was skewers of homemade brownie, with marshmallows & fresh strawberries. The addition of fruit brings some vibrancy & freshness, and in my opinion, you need at least one chocolatey option!
Overall, I had such a fun time planning, baking and enjoying my homemade afternoon tea with my friends. If you break it down and go step by step then hosting a homemade afternoon tea is extremely manageable and your friends will really appreciate the love you have put into hosting!
Have you hosted a homemade afternoon tea? Let me know your tips in the comments & don’t forget to tag me in your future entertaining pictures!