Take a cue from the House of Windsor and hail Britannia with this very proper wedding inspired royal tea. Steeped in tradition with a hint of a modern twist, our afternoon tea for eight is fit for both the Queen Mum and the next-gen royals in line for the crown. We’ll walk you through the perfectly-mannered steps of serving a bountiful feast of sandwiches, biscuits, desserts and, of course, tea, that will delight any anglophile in your life.
Despite seeming decidedly lowbrow next to high tea, its imperial sounding cousin, afternoon tea, stems from the habits of the Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. Small sandwiches, scones and other bite-sized treats became popular amongst the rich and famous, while high tea remained a substantial meal meant to sustain the working class at the end of the day.
Traditional tea sandwiches are dainty delicacies, made with thinly sliced bread and vegetables and meant to be consumed in one or two bites. In your own kitchen, a mandoline or vegetable peeler can be used to make almost translucent shavings for fillings, while a rolling pin helps to flatten the bread. When it comes to fillings, think beyond plain cucumber and try to offer a variety of savoury and sweet to suit all tastes. Simplify your life by pressing a versatile bread such as brioche into double duty for both types of fillings — the slight sweetness will make a good pairing for most teatime toppings. For a playful take on tea sandwiches, transform the flavours of Bloody Mary cocktails such as pimento olives and anchovy paste into a small snack, or take tuna salad from the lunchbox to the parlour with fancy open-faced tuna and white bean treats.
Scones with Jam, Cream and More
Given the brouhaha over the correct order of cream and jam layering, Brits take their scones seriously. Avoid controversy by letting guests slather their own scone with Devonshire cream, lemon herb chèvre or a honey and orange flavoured homemade butter. Offering gluten-free and vegetarian versions is a nice touch for dietary-restricted guests. When baking scones, use a light touch to avoid overworking the dough and ending up with tough scones.
Biscuits and Cakes
Dust off your tiered cake stands and silver trays — or fashion a sleeker version with plates balanced on overturned bowls — to serve these prettily portioned treats. Think small and bite-sized to keep a sense of modest British restraint, but offer a variety so you and your guests don’t feel deprived. Our menu contrasts the checkerboard pattern of a traditional Battenberg cake with the gooey lusciousness of savoury cream cheese profiteroles and Southern charm of a butter pecan crumpets.
A comforting pot of tea is often filled with a well-known blend such as Earl Grey, and steeped in ritual. Niceties such as warming the teapot first with boiling water, swaddling the teapot in a cozy and debating the milk in first or last question are all traditions you can bring across the pond for your afternoon tea. For variety, why not take it a step further by offering your guests some different flavours and temperatures in their cuppa? Mint tea is a soothing herbal digestif with a beautiful aroma and colour, while lemon lavender iced tea offers a refreshing floral note for your senses. For those who want to be a bit naughty like Winston Churchill, who reportedly used to hide strong spirits in his teapot during Prohibition, a white tea and rum cocktail with honey lime syrup will fit the bill. Serve up your tea in your best china, or for a more modern take, mix and match in Chinese, Japanese, Russian or Moroccan teacups for a splash of colour and pattern. Be sure to select china or glassware that can withstand hot liquid, and place saucers or doilies strategically to avoid spillage.
So this season, whether you are hosting William, Kate, Harry or Meghan (or a party of aristocratically-minded friends and family), raise a cup to celebrate the ritual of afternoon tea. Just remember to keep those pinkie fingers down — Miss Manners dispelled the habit as a needless affectation once the cup handle was invented.