How to throw an afternoon tea party

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.

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.

Arrival drinks

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

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.


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.


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.