How to Serve the Best Afternoon Tea at Home

23 May 2022

Floral tea cups and saucers
Maya Kruchancova /

Is there ever an occasion that doesn’t call for afternoon tea? Whether you're celebrating a birthday or simply want to gather with friends, now’s the perfect time to enjoy a quintessentially British afternoon tea in the sunshine. Whilst you can’t beat visiting a tea room at a suave hotel or an award-winning restaurant for the really momentous occasions, afternoon tea is also a wonderfully easy yet effective gathering to host yourself too. So sit back and discover our top tips on how to host the best afternoon tea at home...

What is Afternoon Tea?

neutral table setting with meringues
Lilia Trott /

Afternoon tea dates back to the early 19th Century when the 7th Duchess of Bedford complained of ‘having a sinking feeling’ during the afternoon. The Duchess’s solution was to enjoy a pot of tea and a light snack privately in her boudoir to keep hunger pangs at bay until dinner time. Before long she started inviting her friends along and it soon became the height of high society fashion and was deemed respectable enough to be moved to the drawing room.

It has now evolved from a simple light snack and tea to a sweet and savoury feast of sandwiches, cakes and, of course, scones. This is seen as the traditional afternoon tea, but new variations are popping up all the time and sparkling alternatives with Champagne or prosecco are now quickly becoming the nation’s favourite.

Set the Tone

afternoon tea flat lay

Begin with setting the tone of your afternoon tea. Do you want it to be a fancy affair fit for Buckingham Palace? Or an intimate, laidback offering with sweet treats on tap? Determine the number of people you’ll be having and how formal you want it to be before moving onto the theme.

Opting for something a little more formal is a great excuse to up the glam factor. Tea sets and tableware made from luxurious materials like marble and agate, with gleaming metallic embellishments will give your afternoon tea that five-star luxury look and feel. If you’re looking to put your own stamp on things, why not go for something different? From unique flavour combinations to statement tea sets, a quirky afternoon tea will grab your guests’ attention and will act as a perfect conversation starter too.

Pick the Perfect Spot

afternoon tea in the garden
Tony Marturano /

It’s also important to consider where you’d like to host your afternoon tea. The dining room is ideal for more formal get-togethers as you can create a seating plan or even set each guest up with their own personalised place setting. The garden is a great alternative for warm weather and taps into traditional English garden parties often enjoyed by the Queen at Buckingham Place or Sandringham. For more laidback settings, the living room offers comfort and a relaxed atmosphere or if you’d like to get out into the great outdoors, why not host a traditional British picnic with a tea party twist?

Bottoms Up

Inna /

Once you’ve set the tone, it’s time to consider how you’re going to serve your afternoon tea. Whether you’re serving English breakfast tea, herbal teas, coffee, or a mixture of all of the above, you’ll need something to serve it in. We love tea served in mugs, and your everyday hot drink is absolutely fine to serve in these comforting cups however, afternoon tea calls for a vessel with a little more flair, and by flair, we mean a saucer. Tea and coffee cups with saucers give an extra sense of occasion, so why not invest in a beautifully patterned matching set for your next tea party?

Magdalena Bujak /

Alternatively, if your choosing bubbles, gin, or cocktails over the humble cup of tea then it’s important to take your glassware and barware into consideration. Champagne or prosecco calls for a set of elegant Champagne flutes whilst a set of balloon glasses are perfect for serving a selection of cocktails or gin. If you're shaking things up with your very own cocktail menu, make sure you’re equipped with the right tools such as shakers, stirrers, and straws to impress your guests.

Game, Set, Serve

Magdelena Bujak /

Planning your serveware beforehand is a must. Whilst giving each of your guests a cake stand is impractical, you can still create a centrepiece with one or two stands to display your scones or cakes. Arrange the sandwiches and other savoury snacks on platters or serving plates around the cake stands so your guests arrive to a table bursting with delicious treats.

Delicate china tea sets, finger sandwiches and dainty but delicious cakes, all work well in both informal and formal settings as they can be dressed up or down. Classic afternoon tea tableware can be patterned (often floral) or plain but the key to afternoon tea is traditional features like teapots, tea sets, and beautiful display stands.

Flour Power

red baking dish
Emile Henry

Now you’ve got the aesthetics covered, it’s time to look to the food itself. Whilst any lover of afternoon tea will have a sweet tooth, make sure you have a great selection of savouries too. This can be in the traditional form of sandwiches or unleash your inner pastry chef and include mini pies, pastries, or tarts. If you are opting for sandwiches, you could always mix up the bread choices by introducing bagels, flatbreads, or focaccia. Just make sure you have a selection of fillings to cater to vegetarians, vegans, and those with allergies.

An at-home afternoon tea is also a great opportunity to show off your baking skills, as no tea is complete without copious amounts of homemade cake. From show-stoppers to tray bakes, whatever you decide to whip up, it will look fit for a Queen when you’ve added it to your stylish spread. Who needs afternoon tea in London’s swankiest joints when you can enjoy your guilty pleasures in your own home?

Related Articles