A classic afternoon tea enjoyed in a tea garden or at home is a fine British tradition. Regardless of if you are planning treats for two or a large group, putting together a menu for an afternoon tea can be a real challenge. One type of scone, three savoury options, and three sweet offerings will be suitable for most tiered stands with ease and is manageable to prep. Using our helpful tips to help you with creating teatime menus that are sure to please!

Afternoon tea is a timely British tradition which goes all the way back to the seventh century. Reportedly, the Duchess of Bedford had an idea to solve her mid-afternoon slump with a light refreshment and a walk with her pals to carry her through to dinner. This soon became a fashionable occasion for the upper classes to come together and gossip, with the array of food on offer reaching elaborate standards. Sadly for us, nowadays this tradition is limited to special occasions rather than a daily afternoon pick-me-up, but it is nevertheless one of the most internationally recognised British customs although we probably don’t enjoy it as much as those around the world might suspect.

To celebrate afternoon tea, we’ve put together an assortment of tips and afternoon tea pointers that would impress the Duchess of Bedford, complete with cucumber sandwiches and all the accoutrements. Also, if you have a special occasion coming up or just feel like treating yourself, we’ve some suggestions for putting on a tea party in style or how to facilitate this in your hospitality business.

What’s the Best Time for Afternoon Tea?

So what time is tea time? Often people have afternoon tea between 3 and 5pm, and 4pm is often considered the best time for afternoon tea.

Lots of hotels and restaurants offer it from noon up until early evening, so you don’t have to stick to the rules if you want to have it a little earlier or later on. Lots of people go for tea in lieu of lunch, while others have it late and use it as an early dinner. The reason it’s traditionally served between 3 and 5pm is because as previously mentioned, this was when it was invented, afternoon tea was made to be a time of refreshment for the upper classes between lunch and dinner.

What’s the Difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?

There’s a huge difference between afternoon tea and high tea, so, with this in mind, it’s important to refer to it by the correct name. Afternoon tea is what you think of when you think of all the things addressed in this blog in relation to afternoon tea etiquette.

In contrast to afternoon tea, high tea was a meal servants had around 6pm. It was served at a high table, hence the name high tea. It consisted of a larger meal and was more a dinner than an afternoon refreshment.

Today there’s often plenty of food and lots of places which serve afternoon tea, allowing you to have seconds of anything you order, so a lot of people aren’t hungry for dinner after having tea.

The Spread

There aren’t any specific rules in place when it comes to the afternoon tea, however, a standard afternoon tea comprises a tier of sandwiches, a tier of cakes and one of scones or teacakes. However, you could also throw in pastries, petits fours or biscuits.Don’t get ahead of yourself by taking on too many bites, if you feel like a challenge make sure you get your timings right.

In What Order Do You Eat at Afternoon Tea?

If you’re wondering what to include in your afternoon tea, it’s pretty simple. Often the food is served on a three-tiered tray, with sandwiches or savories on the bottom, scones in the middle, and pastries up on the top tier. Afternoon tea etiquette is to eat the sandwiches first, then the scones, then the delicious pastries. Some places will serve the food in courses, so you don’t even have to worry about remembering the order!


While these require minimal effort, you can get ahead by making your fillings way in advance, then assemble just prior to guests arriving to avoid the dreaded – soggy sandwich.

How do you keep tea sandwiches from drying out?

After making them, cover your sandwiches in plastic wrap to prevent them from going stale. Place on your tray before serving as the bread will dry out quickly. Which sandwiches are served at afternoon tea?

Here are the most classic flavours of tea sandwich:

  • Cucumber
  • Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese
  • Egg Mayonnaise & Cress
  • Chicken & Mayo
  • Cheese & Chutney
  • Ham & Mustard
  • Prawn & Mayonnaise
  • Beef & Horseradish
  • Tuna & Mayonnaise
  • Roasted Vegetables & Cream Cheese

What are Tea Sandwiches Made of?

Yeah sandwiches have lots of filling options. What differentiates them from normal sandwiches is their small size and the fine nature of the filling. Most fillings are chopped into small pieces so that dainty bites can be taken without having to worry about a giant piece of tomato or chicken sliding out.

What is the Best Bread to use for Tea Sandwiches?

Most of the fillings are suited to a classic soft white bread, while stronger or smoother flavours like smoked salmon pair nicely with a textured bread like granary of wholemeal. Wholemeal bread is perfectly acceptable but the main thing is to use quality bread, nothing approaching stale.

Sweet Treats


Scones are a perfect option for an afternoon tea and an disputed favourite. It may be helpful to spread the work of preparing your afternoon tea by freezing a batch, then defrosting them in a low oven. Serve warm with lashings of clotted cream and jam, strawberry or raspberry jam is traditionally served but it really is up to you! Pop your jam and cream into a pretty bowl with a silver spoon for guests to help themselves. We’ll leave it up to you to decide what comes first though!


From simple strawberry to a zesty blackcurrant, these fruity preserves are ideal for spreading liberally over scones and teacakes:

  • Strawberry jam
  • Raspberry jam
  • Cherry jam
  • Rhubarb & ginger jam
  • Plum jam
  • Blackcurrant jam


Shortbreads, cookies, gingernuts – you name it! Get inspired and cast your mind back to memories of your childhood biscuit tin. These recipes all take less than an hour to prep, so you can make them on the morning of your event. Alternatively, order in some quality biscuits for your afternoon tea from a reputable wholesaler.


Even the mere mention of Parisian-standard pastry is enough to break any chef out into a cold sweat, however they are a great option and really give the whole experience a decadent flair! If you’re willing to take them on, prepare the pastry or biscuits the night before your afternoon tea. Here are some classic and decadent favourites:

  • Raspberry mille feuilles
  • Mini eclairs
  • Lemon tarts
  • Chinon apple tarts
  • Bakewell tart
  • Salted caramel choux buns
  • Creme brulée pots
  • Cannoli


Individual portions are ideal for the afternoon tea, so have a generous batch of dinky cakes that are prettily decorated. Think fondant fancies, viennese whirls or mini fairy cakes.

More brilliant cake options include:

  • Coffee & walnut flapjacks
  • Banoffee cake
  • Orange & poppy drizzle muffins
  • Easy caramel cake
  • Mini pistachio cakes
  • Coconut and chocolate traybake
  • Strawberry & polenta cupcakes

If you run a catering business and need a few afternoon tea fundamentals, here at Freshways, whether you require high-quality milk, cream, butter, jam, or cheese, you can rely on Freshways products. Based in Acton, we’re one of the largest suppliers of dairy to London and across the UK. As a family-run and independent dairy supplier, we’re dedicated to providing you with the highest quality products at competitive prices. Get in touch today for more information on all our dairy products and business opportunities.