Does jam or cream come first on your scone? And how do you pronounce the damn thing? Do you cut your sandwiches into squares or triangles? Should the milk or tea go in the mug last?
Yep, for such a longstanding and beloved British tradition, and one which brings family and friends together, certain elements of an Afternoon Tea party aren’t half divisive. But really, these little vignettes and verbal duels are all part of what makes the spectacle of High Tea so enjoyable and so quintessentially British. Should you be keen to host your own event, then here’s how to throw the best afternoon tea party in 5 IDEAL steps.
First things first, you will need the basic equipment for your afternoon tea, for convenience of serving and more importantly, for the sake of custom. This includes a tiered cake stand where you will place the cakes and sandwiches. The cake stand is traditionally the centrepiece of the occasion, and this isn’t an item you should cut corners with. Doing so might lead to all of your carefully curated savoury and sweet treats ending up on the floor.
Crockery – the teapots, teacups, plates, cutlery and cake knives used – also plays a defining role in any afternoon tea party. Ideally, this is the occasion you’ve been saving your best china for, but if you don’t own any, the daintiest crockery in your kitchen cupboards will do. Alternatively, you could source your crockery from charity shops. Though, admittedly, it’s unlikely you’ll find a matching set, the shelves of your local Shelter or Oxfam are often blessed with exactly the kind of delicate china such an occasion demands.
Finally, add some lacy doilies and artfully folded napkins for that finishing flourish.
Without doubt the most important element of an afternoon tea is the tea itself. When your guests arrive, they will likely be parched and expectant. As such, it’s important to make sure you have tea ready and waiting for them. You should be very selective when choosing the beverages for your afternoon tea party. Most people expect only the finest, speciality teas to be served.
A traditional English Breakfast blend is a firm favourite, and Earl Grey a crowd pleaser, too. However, you could tempt your guests with something a little more unusual such as a power green tea, for the ultimate teatox, filled with antioxidants and nutrients. Or for the more daring, try a chilli chai tea for that fiery kick. On warmer days, try brewing an iced tea using your favourite tea and add slices of citrus fruits for a refreshing twist.
But in all honesty, guests will be expecting high-quality, loose-leaf teas. The aforementioned Earl grey or white rose and raspberry teas usually go down well, and can all be ordered from a speciality tea shop online.
We also suggest investing in proper tea-making equipment (like strainers or infusers) because this will bring out the very best flavours for your guests to enjoy. Go that extra mile, and your guests will be rewarded with the finest cup of tea.
Not only will the tea selection have to be impressive, but the food you serve will also need to be exquisite and appropriate to the occasion.
Whether you pronounce it ”scon” or ”scoooone”, the scone’s presence in the spread is non-negotiable. If you don’t serve them, then we’re afraid to say that it’s just having a cuppa with friends. Choose your pronunciation, and don’t falter. Pledge allegiance to a method and stick to it; ‘the Devonshire’ dictates that you should smother a scone in cream before adding jam, while the groupies of ‘the Cornish’ persuasion insist jam should be applied first. But most importantly, serve the very best version you can muster (or buy them in – there’s no shame in that).
THE REST OF THE SPREAD
Of course, any self respecting afternoon tea party host will serve up a wide variety of savoury and sweet treats for guests. Make sure that you keep some of those classic ‘crowd pleasers’ on the menu, namely; egg mayonnaise sandwiches; cucumber with cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches; macarons; Battenberg; and éclairs.
Make sure everyone in the group is catered for, and provide more savoury foods such as scotch eggs, quiche and sausage rolls, accompanied with drinks for the non-tea drinkers such as a superfood smoothie for the ultimate health kick.
NOT TEA TOTAL
What, you thought this thing was just about drinking tea and eating scones? As with almost every British institution, a large part of the occasion is actually about providing cover for a cheeky afternoon drink. Not serving some bubbles, then, would be sacrilege.
Rather than splashing out on champagne, English sparkling wine provides the perfect alternative to complement your afternoon tea, and is so fashionable right now. Pair your afternoon tea with local sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs from Cotswold vineyard Woodchester Valley, an elegant English sparkling wine with aromas of baked apple, citrus and biscuit. For an added twist, why not serve your favourite tipple with a splash of elderflower or raspberry liqueur.