An afternoon tea party is one of the little pleasures that us Brits enjoy. From ‘too-cool-for-tea-and-cake’ teens to your grumpy granddad; no one can pass up a spread of treats this delicious, even if it means having to sip English tea from poncey china tea cups. Afternoon teas can range from a simple ‘cream tea’ with a freshly baked scone topped with clotted cream and jam (or is it jam, then clotted cream-let the Devon/Cornwall debate begin), to the full shebang that is ‘high tea’, complete with mini sandwiches and quiches, cakes, tarts, pastries, biscuits and not forgetting the scones.
This well-engrained British tradition was born in the early nineteenth century. The story goes that the Duchess of Bedford complained of having a “sinking feeling” in the late afternoon. The solution was for her to have a pot of tea and a light snack before supper. In the beginning, the Duchess would take tea alone in her boudoir. Later, friends were invited to join her. After some time, hotels had the idea to serve ‘high tea’ to the general public (although only the upper class could afford this luxury). There hotel events were grand occasions, much like what we are accustomed to today.
The Perfect Afternoon Tea
- Don’t dare bring coffee into the mix, it’s called a tea party for a reason and there are thousands of varieties to be sampled. You need not stick to English Breakfast Tea-modern tea parties feature floral greens, beautiful flowering teas and rich brews from the fields of Indian.
- For me, a tea party is not a tea party without a painted tea pot, pretty teacups and saucers, cake forks (which I will forever maintain make the cakes taste better), your best crockery and a tiered cake stand to show off your wonderful bakes. Why not push the boat out with patterned table clothes.
- Be sure to keep everything ‘dinky’; individual tarts and mini cakes are much more delightful that large cakes that need to be sliced.
- It’s all about the company, whether you invite a few close friends or the whole neighbourhood.
Here are some classic British bakes to inspire your tea party. (The first three were made a large cakes, so you may want to get creative and modify them into individual bakes for your tea party.)