Afternoon tea has always been a bit of an indulgent treat for me. Over the years, I’ve had afternoon tea in luxurious restaurants with palm trees, cosy small village pubs and opulent country houses.
There is just something magical about stopping in the middle of the afternoon and having a glass of champagne with finger sandwiches and dainty cakes. It feels very oldfashioned, but at the same time very comforting. You can’t rush the afternoon, you just have to let the time pass, enjoy your company, savour the delicious food and the surroundings.
Since going for an afternoon tea is a ‘special day’ kind of thing, like a birthday or a wedding anniversary, I enjoy hosting afternoon tea at home for my family. It’s a great excuse to invite a few friends around, try new baking recipes and there is much less pressure than hosting a dinner party.
1. Decide on a theme
I love vintage tea parties with 1940s music, decorations and settings, but there is no reason why your party couldn’t be very modern and decorated in a minimalistic, sleek style. Depending on the occasion, you could choose to go with silver for a Silver Wedding Anniversary or if it’s a birthday party to choose something that you know the birthday girl loves. This could be anything that might be weaved into the styling of the room, ingredients used for the food or even the dress code.
2. Decide on the budget
If you book an afternoon tea party in a hotel or a restaurant, the cost per person could be anything from £25 – £50. By having your own venue and doing all the catering you’ll be of course saving money, but don’t overestimate how much hosting an afternoon tea party costs.
Write down what you’d be prepared to spend per person and then make a list of things you want or need to buy. Start estimating the cost per each item on your list and add the rough costing. Compare it to your budget per person and either adjust the budget if you find that you have too much or cross off items that don’t need to be purchased (e.g. new decorations or table cloths).
Try to use what you have, borrow decorations from your friends (e.g. vintage tea set and cutlery) or swap brands for cheaper items. (e.g. swap champagne for sparkling wine)
3. Decide on a venue
The obvious choice is to host your afternoon tea party at home, but what if your house location is not suitable for your guests or you need to bring together a large party? Fortunately, there are ways of booking meeting venues online (like SquareMeal), where you can choose a venue from a traditional setting in a country hotel to modern style rooms in a stately home. Most venues are also able to provide catering and you can search for venues based on their hygiene ratings.
4. Decide on a date & send out invites
Try to think about what would work best not only for you, but also for your guests. Weekdays could be tricky unless it’s a school holiday and you are happy to include a children’s table with your afternoon tea settings.
Saturday is probably the best option since your friends are more likely to be available. If you host your afternoon tea party in the afternoon, your friends can still have a lazy Saturday morning at home, and if they have plans for the evening, they won’t need to choose or cancel either of their plans, like a restaurant booking or going to the cinema.
Once you know the date, send out your invitations. These could be handwritten, or you could design and print them. You could also include a dress code on the invitations. Not that you want people turning up in the ball gowns and tails (unless that’s what you want…), but perhaps suggesting that everyone wears a flower dress or something with a floral pattern, which will work great with your afternoon tea theme.
5. Decide on the menu
This is my favourite part of planning an afternoon tea party. You’ve got to decide on what to serve, and pretty much anything goes! I like to try new cake recipes and recently discovered that SquareMeal publishes restaurants standard recipes on their website, so I include few extra suggestions from their recipes list.
At least three different types of sandwiches using white, wholemeal and my own wholemeal seeded bread. I choose the fillings based on seasons, but my favourites include: cream cheese & smoked salmon, cheddar cheese & apple chutney, ham & mustard or beef & horseradish.
Choose something simple and traditional like a Victoria Sponge, Lemon Drizzle Cake or a Chocolate Loaf cake.
It’s impossible to imagine afternoon tea without scones. Don’t forget to buy clotted cream and strawberry jam to serve.
Patisserie & Sweet Treats
I like to include my homemade chocolate truffles, colourful macaroons, freshly made pieces of fudge or marshmallows. Small fruit tartlets, chocolate eclairs or individual pots of puddings or chocolate mousse are a great idea, too.
I always use loose tea in a teapot, (Ceylon or Assam Tea) and provide milk, lemon and sugar for my guests to help themselves.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Alcohol is optional and certainly not every afternoon tea needs to be served with a glass of champagne, but it’s a lovely touch. A good quality sparkling wine is perfectly fine and helps to keep the party budget to a manageable amount.
6. Decorate your room
This is a really fun part of planning your afternoon tea. Once you know your theme, you can choose the right props and decorations to decorate the room. I’d always do this the day before because it always seems to take longer then what you think. You’ll also have an extra day, in case you forget something or need to buy extra bunting because you’ve miscalculated the size of the room!