I’ve already given some tips on How to have the ideal afternoon tea picnic, and I’ve also hopefully enlightened readers as to why we have afternoon teas, but when it comes to making your traditional afternoon tea picture perfect, I have left you largely in the dark – until now.
This summer I cooked for a truly lovely family up in Scotland. Some family friends and their children were coming up for the bank holiday, and as the perfect means of celebrating this sizeable get together – consisting of 8 adults and 8 children – an elaborate afternoon tea was decided on.
Creating the perfect afternoon tea is not for the fainthearted. It requires creativity, dedication, and organisation. In this blog post I am going to give you my seven top tips on how to really flabbergast your tea-drinking, sandwich-scoffing, cake-aholic audience.
1. It’s all in the details – after you’ve done the planning.
There’s a lot of last-minute fuss to an afternoon tea that simply can’t be avoided. From making the sandwiches, to brewing the tea and presenting everything beautifully, creating a picturesque, tasty, and well-timed afternoon tea is no mean feat (there’s nothing worse than soggy sandwiches and tepid, over-brewed tea). That’s why your afternoon tea requires military-style planning. Make a list of what you can prepare in advance, what has to be prepared on the day, and what has to be prepared absolutely last minute, leaving as little as possible to the latter category.
Tip 1: If you have somewhere to eat the night before/morning of the big event, then it’s a good idea to lay the table the day before. That way you can really spend time and enjoy decorating the table, which last minute stress on the day may prohibit.
Tip 2: Mini-meringues are my go-to when I want to create a spectacle without leaving everything to the last minute. Meringues keep for… well, let’s just say I’ve eaten some that were a year old, and they were fine (perhaps not quite as nice as the fresher ones). That means you can make them a week, or a couple of weeks, in advance. They’re not only a great sweet treat in themselves, but they’re also really handy cake and table decorations.
Tip 3: There’s nothing worse than a bitter cup of over-brewed, lukewarm tea, but it can be tempting to make the tea ahead just to get it out of the way whilst you’re placing everything else out on the table. To combat this, brew your tea for the desired amount of time, and then pour it into a thermos (tea leaves removed, of course). Now you can relax, and lay out all your goodies without the danger of subjecting your guests to a tepid cuppa.
2. (But most of it is in the details).
It’s often the little, unexpected things that linger in our memories longest. Perhaps it’s an unexpected letter, a free sachet of face cream in your hotel room, or a surprise birthday cake made by one of your friends that has secured it’s place in your mind’s cupboard of cherished memories. During this particular afternoon tea, my little details included freshly picked flowers from the garden, homemade (and home-wrapped!) sweets dotted around the table, and chocolate dipped strawberries. But there’s a whole array of creative details that you can surprise your guests with, and trust me, they’re worth the extra time and effort.
2. Abundance is the name of the game.
And this is why you need great planning skills. An afternoon tea needs to be abundant to be a true showstopper. Tiers and tiers of glistening cakes and rows upon rows of plump finger sandwiches – these are the stuff of dreams. Chances are, your guests won’t be able to finish this feast, so make sure to provide cake boxes for leftovers which can be taken home by your guests.
3. Keep it classic.
Afternoon teas are all about comforting your nostalgic taste buds with clotted cream-filled scones, cucumber sandwiches (it’s pure sin to exclude these from an afternoon tea. If you don’t believe me, read this), and shortbread biscuits. When you come across a tea menu with basil bread sandwiches, macha cake and avocado florentines, though, you can’t help but feel a little Keeping up with the Jones’, or in this case, keeping up with the Maimie’s, Enoch’s, and Salinger’s of this world.
4. …although there’s no harm in a few culinary surprises…
Adding in a few newbies to the traditional afternoon tea won’t do any harm. My little deviations from the traditional 4 o’clock repast included chocolate meringues and salted caramel bites – and they all went down a treat.
5. Plating it all up.
The plates, cakestands, cups, and cutlery you use are paramount when it comes to getting your afternoon tea to look the part. Whilst I had access to some truly afternoon tea-esque plates, cups and saucers, there are so many other options. Mismatched, quaint, or state of the art tea sets are all great alternatives to the antique, hand painted china that is often used in traditional places to plate up an afternoon tea.
For someone who spills the beans on just about everything, I feel hypocritical saying this; but if you keep your afternoon tea a secret, the wow-factor will be doubled. Maybe just invite friends over for a “late lunch”, or don’t tell the birthday-boy/girl what you have in store. And if you can’t keep the afternoon tea a secret, you can downplay its extravagance. Tell people you’ve made some shortbread and a few shoddy sandwiches. (Although make sure they don’t eat before!).
7. And finally, it’s all about you.
No, not you. If you are even contemplating on hosting the most epic event that ever hit 4 o’clock, you have to know how to treat your guests like royalty. That means considering the needs of each and every attendant. Whether you provide a gluten free sandwich or two, or make hot chocolate for children who don’t drink tea (or champagne), you can be sure that your tea will be a success.