Attending a high tea party is the closest way of living out your ‘aristocratic lady living in the Victorian era’ fantasy, without having to figure out time travel. However, if you’ve ever wanted to host your own high tea party at home, you might have quickly found yourself overwhelmed with all that goes into hosting one. What do you serve? What tea should you make? Is it pinkies up or down? First of all, take a deep breath and relax, because we’ve created the ultimate guide to a perfect high tea party so that you can host your own–stress free!
The History Of High Tea And Afternoon Tea
You can thank the 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna, for starting the high tea tradition. She began taking tea and light snacks in the afternoon to stave off hunger before the much later 9 p.m. dinners. Eventually she began inviting friends to join her, and from there the idea gained popularity and spread.
Traditionally, high tea and afternoon tea are two different concepts, though nowadays they are used interchangeably. Afternoon tea was characterized by light snacks and tea and enjoyed by the high class. However, high tea traditionally had heavier food, was served at the end of a work day and was typically enjoyed more by the working class. Today, high tea is simply a better-known term, and because it brings to mind a sense of upper class, it is what is now used when referring to enjoying tea and light snacks.
If you’ve ever had high tea or seen pictures, you’ll know that the selection of foods are served on a three tiered cake stand. You can start from any tier, but the order of the courses always starts with the sandwiches, then the scones, before ending with a selection of cakes and treats.
Nowadays, high tea services are offered at most fancy hotels or tearooms, but if you want to host your own high tea and really impress your friends, then look no further than this guide! First up is the food, beginning with tea sandwiches.
First Course (Tier One): Tea Sandwiches
Tea sandwiches, or finger sandwiches as they are more often called, are thin slices of bread with the crust cut off for a more dainty appearance. The fillings can vary, and of course the types you choose to include are up to you, however there are a few that are a classic staple.
1. Cucumber Sandwich
This is probably the most thought of sandwich when it comes to high tea, and is a very simple 2-ingredient recipe. Just add some butter to each slice of bread, and lay on a few thin slices of cucumber. You can add salt and pepper to taste, then slice the bread into four and voila!
If you want to change the recipe slightly, you can swap in cream cheese instead of butter and add a dash of dill for a creamier sandwich.
2. Smoked Salmon Sandwich
This recipe is similar to the cucumber sandwich, just with salmon instead. In the cream cheese spread, add some lemon juice and dash of dill before adding the smoked salmon on top. This will help not only bring out a nice balance to the salmon more, but also add more flavour to the sandwich in general.
3. Egg Salad Sandwich
Egg salad anything is delicious, but an egg salad sandwich with tea is a staple. Any egg salad recipe will work just fine for this, so if you have a favourite recipe, you can use that. For an added visual, you can add thin slices of olives on top or a dash of paprika powder for a little spice.
These three are the most commonly included sandwiches, but other classics include thin slices of roast beef, chicken, ham and cheese, and more. There are loads of options, so depending on which guests you are inviting or the theme of the party, you can customize your sandwiches accordingly.
Bread wise, white bread is classically used because of its simple white appearance. However, you can mix up breads depending on fillings and try brown bread for example with the egg salad or whole wheat for the salmon. Whatever you enjoy will work!
Second Course (Tier Two): Traditional Scones
Next up are those delicious and flaky British scones. The most classic choice here is a raisin scone, but you can include other options such as plain, dried fruit, or cheese. In any case, the scone will not be complete without butter, a smear of jam, and dollop of clotted cream to top it off.
What is clotted cream? If you are British, you’re probably well versed with the term. But to those who are not, clotted cream is made by heating cream slowly and then allowing it to cool so that the clotted cream rises to the top. The result is a thick, extra creamy, and sweet spread that is divine when combined with jam and scones. You can usually buy a jar of clotted cream in any export aisle at your grocery store, so don’t stress about having to make it from scratch!
For jam options, strawberry is always makes a nice pairing with butter and clotted cream, but you can also include other options such as blackberry, orange marmalade, or peach jam. Again, the final decision depends on personal taste and the theme you are going for with your party, be it traditional or something new.
1. Classic British Scones
The secret to a proper British is that combination of light and fluffy with the subtle sweet undertone. If you’ve never made British scones before, don’t let the final product intimidate you because they are very easy to make and well worth it.
You can easily use this recipe as well, to make different scones such as by adding chopped fruit or baking it with a sprinkle of cheese on top.
Get the recipe at Fifteen Spatulas
Third Course (Tier Three): Cakes And Tarts
Last, but not least, are the cakes and tarts typically located on the uppermost tier. There are so many different options for what sorts of sweets to add that it may be overwhelming, but a simple guide is to include a selection of tarts, cookies, and cakes. This way, you can pick your favourites while still offering a nice selection to your guests.
1. Bakewell Tart
This is another traditional choice of food to add to your party—a thin pastry crust, filled with raspberry jam, lemon filling, and topped with slivered almonds. It’s a nice blend of flavours that isn’t too sweet and will pair very well with the dessert teas.
Get the recipe at The Spruce Eats
2. Jaffa Cake
This recipe is like a blend of a cookie and a cake, but it’s another iconic British treat that is a great choice for a tea party. It has a biscuit base, a sweet orange jelly centre, and the top is coated with chocolate for a very delectable treat.
Get the recipe at The Spruce Eats
3. Battenberg Cake
Probably one of the most famous British cakes is their iconic pink and yellow square cake, wrapped in a nice, thin layer of marzipan. This will serve as a perfect British homage, as well as a guaranteed way to impress your guests both visually and from its taste!
Get the recipe at The Spruce Eats
The Perfect Cup Of Tea
First of all, don’t even think about using tea bags for your party! Only loose tea leaves and strainers are allowed at a high tea party! Using loose tea leaves will result in a better-tasting and full-rounded tea than what you get from a tea bag. The reason is because tea leaves need room to expand and release all their flavour, which doesn’t happen as well from a tea bag. You are also going to get a more organic, fresh tea leaf, than the types of leaves mass packaged into tea bags. Not that there is anything wrong with tea bags, but if you are putting on a high tea, you want to ensure you are providing the best tastes and flavours in everything you prepare.
The next step in creating a perfect cup of tea is knowing which tea to pair with which course. That being said, if you’d rather just select one tea and make a pot for the event, that is perfectly fine! A classic cream tea such as earl grey, combined with milk and sugar, will be a perfect companion for each course. But if you want to take an extra step and are feeling up to it, then you can pair a different cup of tea with each course.
1. Assam Black Tea (Sandwiches)
Assam is a bold tea with a malty taste, making it a perfect pairing for sandwiches. If you prefer this tea with milk and sugar, it can also be paired with sweets. This type of tea needs to steep for two minutes before you remove the tea leaves, so that it’s not too weak but also not too strong. Use one teaspoon per 8 oz, and keep the water temperature between 90-95ºC (194-205ºF) to avoid burning the leaves resulting in a bitter taste.
2. Earl Grey (Scones)
The classic earl grey and the most famous of the black tea family. As mentioned above, you can use this tea for the entirety of your high tea, if you like, and it will work for each course. However, if you are pairing this separately, then earl grey is a perfection companion with scones.
The added milk and sugar (if you add those) are a nice creamy addition to the sweet and creamy flavours from those loaded scones. Earl grey should be steeped between 2-5 minutes to really let the bold flavour out, and the length just depends on how strong you want it.
3. Chamomile Tea (Sweets)
Chamomile tea makes a great pair with sweets because of its naturally light, flower taste. It is also naturally caffeine free, so you won’t have to worry about drinking too much caffeine over the course of your high tea party. For this tea, steep it around 5 minutes but not much longer, otherwise you might end up with a bitter taste.
Keep in mind that these are just suggestion, and there are lots of other tea pairings to consider, so be sure to take a look at what other teas are possible options.
Rules And Etiquette
Yes, there are certain rules and etiquette that must be followed for your tea party! And now that we have our courses and teas sorted out, it’s important to make sure that your tea party proceeds without a hitch.
1. You’ll want to dress up—this isn’t a casual event so no jeans and t-shirts!
2. Scones are to be broken apart with your hands and not cut with a knife.
3. The traditional way of stirring your tea is to start at the 6 o’clock position and stir towards 12 o’clock. Make sure you don’t touch or clatter against the inside of the cup, and when you have finished stirring, place your teaspoon on your saucer.
4. If your tea is too hot to drink, do not blow on it! Just let it sit until it has cooled enough to drink.
5. Pinkies down! Despite popular belief and constant jokes, pinkies should be kept down during tea consumption.