8 Ideas for a Wonderful Afternoon Tea

May 25, 2019

“Afternoon tea needn’t stand on ceremony. Anything that becomes more important than sweet fellowship, whether lace or linen or the china itself, is pretense. How much more we enjoy life when the pretenses are discarded!”  – Paul F. Kortepeter, Tea with Victoria Rose

As a young girl, maybe eight years of age, possibly younger, for my birthday party with a gaggle of my friends, girls and boys, we dressed up with gowns and dapper attire, complete with hats and heels from my “dress-up box” that I would enjoy during my play-time, as well as other accoutrements depending upon our taste. We then went into the sun room in my childhood home, and devoured the birthday cake. And while we did not have tea, the idea was a tea party of sorts. The details are fuzzy (mom, if you’re reading this, I look forward to remembering this occasion as I can see the pictures of the occasion in my mind’s eye :)), but I remember that dress-up box vividly and which dresses were my favorite as well.

While the idea of dressing up may be described by some per the quote above as too pretentious, the pretentiousness I find is only present when there is an expectation that the guests feel forced with which to engage. Ultimately, the goal is to enjoy oneself, to relax from the rest of the world and be present, eat delightfully delicious and small bites of food (but many of these small bites), all the while drinking something deeply comforting while spending time with others or oneself depending on the occasion.

Last weekend I made a few recipes inspired by Victoria’s latest French edition magazine and enjoyed an Afternoon Tea which is shared in the images found on this post. Not all of the recipes appeared as I had envisioned them (the pink frosting is a bit too pink, shall we say – here is the recipe and the image that was the goal for the Rose and Lemon cakes), but nonetheless they were all scrumptious and each of the treats were enjoyed for many days to come with a smile remembering why they were created.

And that is one of the important details to remember when it comes to Afternoon Tea, focus on the scrumptiousness and let go of the precision. Some may debate with me on this point, but when we are more concerned with how to “behave”, we lose the joy and peace the moment is meant to cultivate and restore. And so today I would like to share with you eight ideas for your next Afternoon Tea if you are thinking you may have one, whether it be shared with one friend or many or simply in your own company as we all need an afternoon tea to remind us to pause, take a breath, and settle ourselves regardless of what is going on around us.

1.Include savory and sweet items

“My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.”Wilkie Collins

A sandwich is never a bad idea, and something sweet that makes your eyes roll back in your head is always a crowd pleaser. These rose and lemon cake bites did just that, and having savory bites on toasted rye triangles topped with an egg salad salad with capers, celery and a smidge of horse radish topped with micro greens is a simple, fresh and filling idea as well.

Regarding the sandwich, make a delicious spread (the spread seen in this image combines the following ingredients listed below), add finely sliced meat – I chose roast beef – include micro greens or water cress leaves, use quality bread of varying colors perhaps if you are having three slices, top with a slice or two of one of the ingredients in the sandwich, slice off the crust once assembled, and voila!

Sandwich spread:

  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (high quality)
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup finely minced black olives

2. A full, matching tea set is not necessary – simply use what you have

“Tea tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” —Confucius

I found these Bavaria tea sets (six in total) at a local antique shop for $6/each. Mix and match, use what you have as they make for wonderful conversation as you share where you found each one. Gradually, I am welcoming new and used but new-to-me teacups and saucers into my collection, and the journey of finding these treasures has made their place at the table all the more lovely.

3. Serve a scrumptious tea that you love

“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.”
— Jane Austen

Admittedly, while I love English teas, I have fallen head over heels for French teas from Palais des Thés (link to my favorite), and I always make sure my favorite varietal is stocked in my house, at work and when I travel. Of course, I do experiment, but the point is to explore until you find what you love, and then keep it simple and stick to it. As well, if you discover you enjoy different types of tea throughout the day (perhaps caffeinated in the morning and decaffeinated at night – a lovely chamomile to welcome sleep), make that your ritual as well. Your approach to the tea you love will be unique to you, and I have found that I enjoy tasting what others love and enjoy, so in many respects, it is a way to share a piece of yourself with your guests.

Other favorite tea companies:

4. Add flowers

“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” —Henry James, in The Portrait of a Lady

Finding these two bouquets at Trader Joe’s I couldn’t resist adding them both to the table for the color contrast, and with the seasonality of spring represented in both the chamomile flowers and the peonies, it was an easy decision (and easy on the budget as well). Whether you have a large bouquet or mini bud vases placed about the table, adding a natural touch continues the intention of the tea, to be mindful, to relax, to be present, and enjoy the simple, temporal pleasures of the everyday.

5. Use the platters you have

“Tea! Bless ordinary everyday afternoon tea!” —Agatha Christie

If you do not have a three or two tiered cake stand that is seen in traditional afternoon tea settings, fear not. Whatever platters or cake stands you have will work perfectly fine. Elevation helps to encourage the eye to dance playfully around the table, but it is not necessary. Again, enjoy perusing in local antique and secondhand shops, and in time, you will have your own unique afternoon tea accoutrements that speak to your style and story.

6. Add a tablecloth that brightens the space

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.” -Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living

There is an inclusivity that is conveyed when a tablecloth adorns the table as it encourages everyone to try everything regardless of where they may be sitting. No individual placemats that we must remain confined to regarding the food that will be ours to enjoy, no, no, no. Eat, explore, try, taste and indulge – all on the table is for everyone present.

7. Lemon curd

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.” —Muriel Barbery

I probably do not need to say anything more than that, but I will, only because imagining how lovely this citrus spread tastes is a flavorful moment that is hard to forget. While you can certainly make it (the filling for your lemon merinque pie or lemon tarts), you can also easily pick up a jar of it in the store (again, Trader Joe’s helped me out). I used the lemon curd as filling in the lemon and rose cakes, but you can use it on your scones, toast, anything that needs a bright burst of flavor.

~Rose & Lemon Cake Bites filled with a layer of lemon curd~

8. Speaking of scones . . .

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” —Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness 

These cream blueberry scones are one of my favorites, and while they were not served at my most recent afternoon tea seen in the other images, having scones will always be a crowd pleaser at an afternoon tea.

The ritual of enjoying an afternoon tea can vary in grandness of appearance. Whether it is an afternoon tea held for a special occasion with a gathering of a group of friends or family, or the afternoon tea you enjoy with your own company to calm the day down and compose your thoughts and restore your energy, or an afternoon tea with a partner or dear friend to simply be in each other’s company, welcoming this simple, yet truly luxurious routine into our daily lives indeed elevates the everyday.


“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” — Arthur Wing Pinero


May your next afternoon tea be joy filled and be exactly as you desire it to be.

“Christopher Robin was home by this time, because it was the afternoon, and he was so glad to see them that they stayed there until very nearly tea-time, and then they had a Very Nearly tea, which is one you forget about afterwards, and hurried on to Pooh Corner, so as to see Eeyore before it was too late to have a Proper Tea with Owl.” —A. A. Milne

~some TSLL readers may recognize the picture in the background – where it first appeared and was captured in Devon, England~

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17 thoughts on “8 Ideas for a Wonderful Afternoon Tea

  1. Your lovely tea reminded me of a couple of teas that I had gone to at Aunt Annabelle’s Tea Parlor in Loveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, the shop is now defunct. It was a lovely time out from an otherwise frantic time.

  2. This was lovely Shannon. I had to get up and make myself a nice pot of tea with a blueberry muffin. I shared your blog with my daughter and her childhood friend who have been dressing up and having tea parties together for over 25 years. As a matter of fact, while most people are having a BBQ or a day at the beach tomorrow we are going to Bluebird London NYC for afternoon tea. My daughter is six months pregnant so we will do what makes her happy. For her baby shower I had a beautiful “Alice in Wonderland” theme tea party. Everybody loved it.

    PS – We love Trader Joe’s too for so many reasons.

  3. I have loved afternoon tea since I was 8 years old. When I was in college my Aunt Marie would send me a box of Twinning Tea and a tin of English tea cookies. I would entertain my friends, when the goodie box arrived. I love to visit tea rooms when I am traveling, and esp. in the UK. The Willow Tearoom in Glasgow or a homemade rustic tea at the Belmont in Leicester. A trip to London isn’t complete without daily tea at some neighborhood tearoom. But the best is to put on my best outfit and go someplace exceptional for a super extravagant tea. My favorite is Claridges. And Fortham & Masons.

    1. Beth, Thank you for sharing all of these gems. And your idea is one I will be adding to my must-dos each time I visit. A perfectly sensible idea to slow down and truly savor the trip. Thank you tremendously. 🙂

  4. My ladies quilting group just celebrated Spring with our annual Tea Party to honor Mother’s Day. We meet in a local church and there is a formal “parlor” that we request for each of our events. There is a small kitchen and a lovely serving station. We each bring an item, it is never planned and one person is tasked with the tea kettle and tea service. We each bring our own place setting and tea cup. It is such a warm and lovely event to share our favorite tea with dear friends. Tea time is a ritual of life that should be enjoyed and cherished. Thank you for this post. Your settings are lovely.

  5. Hi Shannon,
    Love the Thich Nhat Hanh quote; he is my favorite. Also, I wonder if you realize something important you modeled in this post? The pink icing didn’t turn out exactly as pictured in the recipe, yet it’s beautiful and I’m sure delicious! Wonderful doesn’t have to be perfect, in cupcakes and life. You demonstrated that in your post. Thank you!
    Deborah

  6. As a Southern woman we usually drink our tea cold. It is a little challenge to learn to drink the tea hot. When I visited England a couple of years ago I was determined to have afternoon tea. Thank you for sharing your ideas. It gives a nice jumping off point.

    Stacy

  7. It all looks delicious Shannon !
    You mentioned Taylor’s of Harrogate teas.
    If you ever visit Harrogate, be sure to visit Betty’s tea rooms. It can be very busy, so you might have to wait, but it will be worth it !
    They serve delicious sandwiches , cakes and pastries and light meals .
    The waitresses wear black dresses with white caps and aprons , like the maids in Downton Abbey or an Agatha Christie play .
    They also have branches in York , and at the RHS Harlow Carr Gardens ( which I am sure you would love 😊)
    They have a mail order service as well as the shop and the tea rooms in Harrogate.
    The Yorkshire Dales are beautiful.

  8. Shannon your afternoon tea spread looks very delicious. I enjoy a teatime ritual daily and feelsl it gives me a few moments to pause and savour my day before continuing into the evening. It fortifies and restores my energy . In London my favourite teastops
    are the Savoy ,Fortnum and Masons and Claridges for a celebration champagne tea. But all over the UK there are delightful little tearooms to enjoy this wonderful tradition😊

  9. Shannon, you can find out more about Betty’s at bettys .co.uk
    It is their centenary year this year, so there are some special events and souvenirs to mark the occasion .
    They have such an interesting history , which you can read on the website.

  10. Dear Shannon, this is a lovely Afternoon Tea! And thanks for more recipes to add to my own array of delicacies.

    Living In Leipzig, Germany, it is not often – understandbly – that one finds places serving Afternoon Tea. But I can suggest – tried and approved, by me, of course 😉 the Afternoon Tea service at the Steingenberg Hotel, and the Afternoon Tea at Fuerstenhof Hotel, both in Leipzig. For both international visitors, British or otherwise, and locals. Also Café Kandler, the oldest café in the city, offers an Afternoon Tea service but I did not try it yet.

    In Berlin, Afternoon Tea at Ursprung Café, at Dussmann, das KulturKaufhaus, is also very nice. Dussmann is a large bookshop, and a combination of afternoon tea and books is certainly, in my view 🙂 one of the most delightful ways to spend one’s time! An extra bonus at Dussmann, Berlin, is a living vertical garden, a work of art in itself, from botanist Patric Blanc. If you are ever around, it’s worthwhile to visit, just for the garden.

    WR

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