“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Afternoon tea started in the 1800’s according to English legend, when the Duchess of Bedford started to get peckish in the afternoon in between lunch and supper.  She asked for tea and cake to be sent to her rooms and soon she was inviting her friends along to join her.  Other social hostesses soon began to do the same with their own friends and the tradition we now know as afternoon tea had begun.

Since then it has become more and more popular and is a social event enjoyed by all ages.  It’s great for Mother’s Day, a baby shower and a catch up with friends or just because you like tea and cake!

Afternoon tea can be as casual or as creative as you like.  Take a look at my hints and tips below to help you get started.

  1. Once you decide on a date, it is nice to send a personal invite to your guests.  If you want to stick with tradition, a handwritten note would be perfect in this instance.
  2. Its time to think about your menu once you confirm the number of guests attending.  Allow for 3-4 finger sandwiches per person and at least 2-3 mini sweet treats per person.  Traditional choices include cucumber sandwiches or smoked salmon sandwiches with dill and crème fraiche.  On the sweet side, a huge favourite is a scone served with strawberry jam and clotted cream.  If you want to go with a more modern menu choice you could try beetroot and goats cheese mini tartlets, grissini & prosciutto sticks and mini chocolate brownies with fudge sauce.  I could talk about the food for hours as there is so much choice, however I will save that for another blog post!
  3. Time to bring out the bunting which is one of my favourites when it comes to decorating.  Bunting is very traditional and looks very pretty.
  4. Plan ahead for your actual table setting as you want to create a gorgeous table to go with your beautifully prepared tea. Think about how many cake stands, teacups, saucers & cake plates (trio’s) and teapots you will need.  Hire them if necessary as they look fabulous and very authentic.  Tea tastes so much better drunk from a delicate china teacup and the different array of patterned and colourful teacups look absolutely divine.  Use tiered cake stands with assorted vintage plates and a mixture of glass/crystal and silver pedestal stands to give your table setting an even more eclectic feel.
  5. Make sure each guest has their own silver cake fork, bone or silver handled knife and a teaspoon.
  6. If you are going for a champagne afternoon tea, then a variety of different crystal champagne flutes will look beautiful.
  7. Think about different tea choices for your guests as there are many options.  Maybe try a traditional English breakfast, Earl Grey and a choice of herbal tea.
  8. Make sure you have sugar cubes at hand for your sweet toothed guests.  Sugar lumps are a must when it comes to afternoon tea and look great in a china sugar bowl with silver sugar tongs and a china milk jug.
  9. Set out a crisp white napkin for each guest setting and tie it with a pretty ribbon or a piece of hessian string, along with a name tag.  Or lay a fresh flower on each napkin for a different look with mini blackboards next to each name.
  10. If you are using a wooden table you may want to just use a variety of doilies under your cakes stands.  However if you prefer to cover up your table, a white cotton tablecloth or lace tablecloth will look great.
  11. Fresh flowers are essential for your afternoon tea table setting.  Depending on the season, you could go for boldly coloured Gerberas, traditional Roses or delicate Baby’s Breath.  Display them in groups or individually in a variety of crystal vases, teapots, old tins or vintage bottles.  They will complement your beautiful table setting perfectly.
  12. Last but not least is the music.  The music you play at your afternoon tea will really set the mood.  My favourite is live piano music but it may be a bit tricky a. without knowing someone who can play the piano or b. without owning a piano in the first place! Therefore records (very authentic with the crackle) CD’s or an IPod will do just fine.  Ella Fitzgerald or Glen Miller are choices depending on your musical tastes or if you fancy a French twist, Edith Piaf is fantastic.

Whatever you decide to do for your afternoon tea party, it will be a fabulous affair. Hosting a tea party at home can be intimate and fun.  Even if you hire the vintage equipment it is still friendlier on your budget than booking in for afternoon tea at a city hotel.  At home you have more scope to decorate, plan your own menu, choose your music and be wild with your best girly mates if you are organising some great games for a hen do or a baby shower.

Happy tea making!

“If you are cold, tea will warm you.  If you are too heated, it will cool you.  If you are depressed, it will cheer you.  If you are excited, it will calm you.” – Gladstone, 1865