How to put together the ultimate afternoon tea at home

How to put together the ultimate afternoon tea at home

by Great British Chefs 8 August 2018

The perfect excuse for fitting in another meal between lunch and dinner, afternoon tea is a quintessentially British event that’s full of sandwiches, cake and plenty of fine china. Here's how to make one fit for the Queen.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Afternoon tea is an oh-so-British tradition which dates back to the seventh century. Reportedly, the Duchess of Bedford decided to solve her mid-afternoon slump with a light refreshment and a walk with her pals to see her through to dinnertime. This soon grew into a fashionable occasion for the upper classes to meet and gossip, with the array of food on offer reaching elaborate heights. Sadly, nowadays this tradition is limited to special occasions rather than a daily afternoon pick-me-up, but it is nonetheless one of the most internationally recognised British customs (although we probably don’t enjoy it as frequently as those around the world might think).

To celebrate Afternoon Tea Week, we’ve put together an assortment of recipes that would make the Duchess of Bedford proud, complete with cucumber sandwiches and all the trimmings. And if you have a special occasion coming up or just feel like spoiling yourself, we’ve included some of our favourite restaurants serving the finest afternoon tea selections.


A traditional afternoon tea should have about three or four varieties of daintily displayed sandwiches and, whilst the fillings are subject to personal taste, the most important thing is that they are bite-sized and freshly prepared. Helen Graves is a font of knowledge when it comes to perfect sarnie tips, and is behind these two suggestions for your sandwich spread.

Us Brits seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with egg mayo sandwiches but there’s no denying that it’s one of the most popular and versatile sandwich fillings of all time. Making Helen’s rich and glossy mayonnaise will certainly pay off, as will sourcing the finest free-range eggs and soft white bread.

Omitting cucumber sandwiches from the selection would probably cause national uproar! It’s a palate-cleansing classic that is as British as a rainy day at Wimbledon. Key to Helen’s recipe is salting the cucumber to bring out those fresh flavours and to avoid soggy sandwiches.


The showstoppers of this matinée munching are, without doubt, the cakes. It’s all in the presentation, so choose something that looks the part, but neglect the flavour at your peril. Here’s a few suggestions of what you might like to include, but for more ideas our vast selections of pâtisserie and cake recipes will be your best friend!

This delicate Earl grey and lemon loaf recipe by Urvashi Roe proves that tea isn’t just for drinking. The lemon icing acts as a zesty contrast to the soft sponge for a lovely mixture of flavours and textures. Decorate with some edible or iced flowers for a pretty finish.

If it’s a bit of glamour you’re after, these gold-leaf-topped chocolate and almond brownies from Frances Atkins provide just that. What’s more, the pairing of chocolate and salt, offset by the sweetness of the almonds, creates a taste sensation.

Macarons have become the height of foodie fashion over the last few years and can be made in a huge variety of flavours, so you can get creative and add a bit of colour to your afternoon tea spread. In this recipe, James Sommerin creates a striking purple blueberry and lemon filling that is a delight for both the eyes and the taste buds.

These gin, citrus and pink peppercorn éclairs by Nancy Anne Harbord combine the botanical flavours of high-quality gin with red grapefruit, orange and lemon, making a flavourful cream with a light, silky texture. For the base of these beauties look no further than Nancy’s choux pastry recipe which will help you make the perfect pastry shells every time.

A textbook ‘fancy’ cake, Mokatines are comprised of two layers of light, fluffy Genoise sponge with a coffee buttercream and luxurious coffee icing. They are a little technical to make, as the sugar for the French buttercream must reach exactly 121°C, but if you’re up for a challenge they will add that little extra elegance to your tea stand.


Afternoon tea just wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory scone (as in ‘gone’) or scone (as in ‘cone’) debate. And that’s before we’ve even started arguing about whether to put the jam or the cream on first! For the scone itself you can go for a classic recipe like William Drabble’s, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, why not try Anna Hansen’s hazelnut and tonka bean variety? Whichever recipe you choose, good luck with those age-old debates!


Now, if you decide making all of the above yourself is just too much of a faff, here’s a couple of suggestions for places that do all the hard work for you.

The Gilbert Scott’s nineteenth century surroundings at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel are the perfect setting for a traditional afternoon tea. The selection of sweet and savoury delights can be paired with either tea or Champagne, depending on your inclination, and this is all served in their beautiful gothic bar area.

Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood is the culinary lovechild of Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder, where a huge focus is put on using home-grown produce from the beautiful on-site herb house. The country bumpkin theme is echoed in their afternoon tea spread, which includes wellie boot-shaped biscuits and tasty chocolate flower pots. They have a vast menu of teas including their own Lime Wood blend, and even have the option of upgrading to ‘G & Tea’, for those who fancy something extra special. This is a great place to come for a country getaway.