Easy Afternoon Tea

If you have never made afternoon tea before it can be a little daunting, what with the platefuls of sandwiches, numerous cakes, biscuits and copious amounts of tea. It is however worth every minute, and if you are attempting afternoon tea for the first time there is a simpler version that your guests will adore.

The great thing about afternoon tea is that it can be anything you want it to be. Traditionally afternoon tea consists of 4 courses: sandwiches, scones, cake and buttery biscuits. This may sound like a lot to eat but we are talking delicate little finger sandwiches and dainty amounts of cake that won’t leave you feeling too full.

History of Afternoon tea.
The practice of having afternoon tea wasn’t established until about 1840, a time when lunch was eaten quite early in the day and dinner was served much later, around eight or 9 o’clock.

DSCF2120The story began when Anna Maria, the seventeenth duchess of Bedford (1783 to 1857) was feeling rather hungry late one afternoon, while on her summer holiday. She asked her maid to bring tea and a tray of bread-and-butter sandwiches to her room. Anna Maria began to enjoy “taking of tea” so much that she started inviting her friends to join her for this new social event, one that soon expanded to include an array of assorted fruit bread and pastries.

Soon after, afternoon tea, as we know it was born, and the trend began, hostesses quickly picked up the practice, and elegant tea parties became fashionable social events rather than just a meal. Ladies did not go to afternoon tea to eat but to meet friends, catch up on gossip, scandal and generally be seen in the right places among the right people, and in passing, to drink tea and sample a small sandwich and a slice of cake.

In a few decades the custom was well established. During the 1880’s, upper class women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats and take tea, which was usually served between four and five o’clock.

Eventually afternoon tea would become so popular tearooms began opening for the general public and society had decided that afternoon tea was a relaxing hour well spent.

I recently created an afternoon tea for mother’s day with just three courses – sandwiches, scones and shortbread. I put all three courses on one large 3-tiered cake stand (available from IKEA), placed in the center of the table and decided to dispense with the customary tea and instead served Pimms.

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My guests loved it, and while it wasn’t a real afternoon tea in the traditional four-course sense, it provided a delicious alternative, and something your guests will remember.

It is extremely straightforward to put together. The cakes and biscuits can be made the day before, leaving only the sandwiches and the scones to be prepared on the day. Everything is finished and on the table before anyone arrives making it easy to sit back and enjoy time with you’re guests as opposed having to spend time preparing food in the kitchen.

Easy Afternoon tea for four:

Ham and mustard
Chicken and watercress

Make a selection of each using fresh white bread, don’t forget to butter the bread on one side using unsalted butter. Cut the sandwiches into triangles to serve.

Put these on the bottom tier of the cake stand.

Freshly baked scones are traditionally served with strawberry jam and clotted cream (please click here for the recipe). Devonshire cream is a good alternative (if you can find it), or heavy cream whipped is another option. Guests should cut the scones in half and add cream then jam, or jam then cream, the choice is theirs.

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This recipe is excellent and will give you a batch of around 12 scones.

Place the scones on the second tier of the cake stand.

The following recipe is very easy to make and is absolutely delicious.

To finish off the display add the shortbread to the top tier. It is a great way to finish the meal.

Follow the link for an easy recipe for Pimms No.1 Cup.

Enjoy your first Afternoon tea!

Once you are comfortable with this, there is always the next time to attempt the all singing, all dancing four-course version, with tea, white gloves, and of course the traditional tea party hats.


The 3 Tea’s – afternoon tea, cream tea and high tea.

You can never have too much tea, but it can get a little confusing. When I lived in England it would be very common for me to say ‘it’s time for tea’, or ‘what’s for tea’, or ‘its on at tea time’…trust even us Brits can get confused by the many uses of the word ‘tea’.

In essence the word ‘tea’ can relate to the drink, a meal or a party, and the difference can be quite substantial. But don’t feel bad, a lot of people don’t know the difference including some tea rooms.

So lets start from the top with the biggest difference between an afternoon tea, a cream tea and high tea.

tea timeBasically it all comes down to class. Afternoon tea and cream tea, (particularly at the turn of the 20th century) were predominantly a white collar experience consisting of delicate sandwiches, little cakes and scones served on silver trays and bone china around 4 pm. Where as high tea was traditionally thought of as a blue collar meal (particularly in the north of England), generally consisting of a variety of meat dishes, puddings and cakes – this traditional evening meal (served around 6 pm) was the perfect way to end a long day.

To cut to the chase, if you were a member of the Hoi polloi you would burst through the door at 5pm, look at your wife and say ‘what’s for tea’?

However if you were one of the well-to-do ladies of a certain class you would summon your butler at 3.30 pm and say ‘Geeves, it’s time for tea’.

Or if you grew up in England in the 80’s (like me), and you were looking forward to watching the A-team’, we all knew it was on ‘at team time’ every Saturday.

I think that covers it, but I will break it down into further detail with a brief description for all 3 events.

Continue reading The 3 Tea’s – afternoon tea, cream tea and high tea.