How to Plan a High Tea at Home

How to Plan a High Tea at Home

Dreaming of a sophisticated afternoon brimming with elegant finger food and delightful tea? Hosting a high tea at home is easier than you think! Whether you’re a seasoned entertainer or new to entertaining and aiming to impress, this guide will walk you through three delightful options to curate your perfect high tea experience.

Planning a High Tea at Home: Three delightful options to wow your guests

1. DIY Delight: Baking Your Way to a Memorable High Tea Experience

For the hands-on host who cherishes a personal touch, organising a high tea at home and creating your own culinary masterpieces is a rewarding way to celebrate.

Planning & Preparation For Your High Tea:

For the hands-on host who cherishes a personal touch, creating your own culinary masterpieces is a rewarding way to celebrate.
Planning & Preparation:
Pick your date & time: Consider weekends or afternoons for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Send out charming invitations: Set the tone with elegant invitations, mentioning the dress code (optional) and dietary restrictions you can accommodate.
Menu magic: Research classic high tea recipes or choose familiar favourites, keeping a balance of savory (finger sandwiches, mini quiches) and sweet (scones, pastries, macarons).
Tea time: Select a range of quality tea varieties based on your preference. 
High Tea Etiquette:
Setting the stage: Use your finest china or invest in affordable vintage finds. Arrange plates, cups, and cutlery elegantly, placing the saucer under the teacup and the spoon on the saucer.
Serving with finesse: Offer a selection of teas first, followed by a three-tiered stand or separate plates showcasing the food, starting with savory items and finishing with sweets.
Etiquette essentials: Pinkies out are optional! Focus on enjoying conversations and savouring the delicacies in a relaxed yet graceful manner.

Your questions answered

In this section we will be answering your most frequently asked questions about hosting a high tea at home. 

The terms afternoon tea and high tea are often used interchangeably today. Although they both include tea as the main beverage, they have distinct differences and traditionally served different purposes.

In British tradition, afternoon tea is a lighter affair, typically enjoyed in formal settings in the mid-afternoon, featuring delicate finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and small cakes. It was more akin to a refined snack and often associated with social gatherings.

High tea, on the other hand, was and still is, a more substantial meal, including heartier fare like quiches & pies alongside the usual tea and sweet treats. It originated as a working-class meal after a long day, offering sustenance rather than a social event.

For a more relaxed experience, if you are planning a gathering of more than just a few friends, weekends will work best, with the added bonus that more of your guests will be able to attend.

Although the best time to host a high tea will depend on the day, your circumstances as well as the occasion, from a practical point of view,

  • Saturday high teas can start anytime between 10:30am and 3:00pm and
  • Sunday high teas are best to start anytime between 10:30am and 2:00pm (Starting late on a Sunday afternoon is not recommended as most of your guests will have to work the next day)

Always allow 3-4 hours for your high tea event, so best to take that into consideration as well. 

In the past, both afternoon teas and high teas took place later in the day. Leisurely schedules allowed for afternoon tea as a pre-dinner treat, while high tea was served as a substantial evening meal for the working class.

However, our modern lifestyles have shifted these traditions. High teas are now celebratory events, typically associated with marking special occasions. Due to the demands of our fast paced lives, starting your High Tea earlier in the day will foster a more relaxed and unrushed experience, perfectly aligned with the leisurely nature of afternoon, and high tea traditions.

That’s a good question. For simplicity, we have categorised recommended starting times in 3 time brackets:

Early starters between 10:30 and 12:00 am work best for occasions when a child or a mum to be is the guest of honour, such as Baby Showers, Baptisms, Kids Birthdays and Confirmations.

Mid-day starters between 12:00 and 1:00pm are best suited for fundraising events as well as private gatherings when the host/hostess has planned a generous menu, that is best to be enjoyed during lunch time. 

Afternoon starters between 1:30 and 3:00pm are best when the host/hostess has planned a light menu and the main purpose of the high tea is to complement a social gathering.

Although there is no hard and fast rule on how long a high tea should last, always remember that a High Tea experience is meant to be relaxing and unhurried. Allow enough time to enjoy the delicious treats while catching up with family or friends.

If you are planning a high tea for a small, social get together, allow approximately 2 hours.

To celebrate a special event with friends and family, the recommended length of time to allow for a High Tea is between 3 and 4 hours, depending on your event.

As a general rule, for fundraiser high teas, or for high tea parties that the guest of honour is a child or an expecting mum, allow approximately 3 hours. 

For other types of events such as Bridal Showers, High Tea Weddings, Hens Parties or Birthdays, the recommended length of time is between 3 to 4 hours. At events lasting longer than 4 hours, the guests might start to experience fatigue.

If your guests however, are known for enjoying longer gatherings, then none of the above suggestions apply and you can celebrate to your heart’s content.

A typical high tea menu includes 4 courses, consisting of delicate morsels usually classified as “High Tea finger food” and typically served all at the same time. Consider the following options:

Course 1: Scones with whipped cream and strawberry jam
Course 2: Finger sandwiches
Course 3: Delicate pastries
Course 4: Savoury morsels.

If you are about to design the menu for your DIY High Tea at home, consider the following ideas: 

  • Scones served with whipped cream and strawberry jam
  • Finger sandwiches such as cucumber & cream cheese, egg & lettuce, smoked salmon & cream cheese, ham with mustard & Swiss cheese, chicken & watercress, turkey & cranberry sauce or Beef & horseradish
  • Sweet options such as macarons, lemon curd tarts, chocolate tarts, slices, brownies, and mini cupcakes. 
  • Savoury morsels such as beef pies, chicken pies, sausage rolls, mini savoury croissants, mini quiches (lorraine, salmon, spinach/mushroom) and canapes (avocado, egg salad, cucumber).

Although the menu can be crafted based on yours, and your guests preferences, always remember: 

  • Your high tea menu should be balanced. Include meat based dishes as well as vegetarian (or even vegan) options. 
  • Offer a variety of flavours and textures, to avoid overwhelming your guests’ taste buds.
  • Do not be tempted to showcase all your exotic recipes at once. Your creations should consist of light dishes as well as full flavour options, so that your guests can enjoy all of the treats you have worked so hard to prepare.  

For a light afternoon tea, it is recommended to serve between 5 and 6 food items based on a 3 course menu.

Course 1: One scone served with clotted cream & jam per person,
Course 2: Two types of crustless finger sandwiches,
Course 3: Two to three types of pastries and sweets.

High Teas are intended to be more substantial than afternoon teas. To fully satisfy your guests it is recommended to serve between 7 and 10 food items per person, based on a 4 course menu.

Course 1: One scone served with clotted cream & jam per person,
Course 2: Two to three types of crustless finger sandwiches,
Course 3: Two to three types of mini sweets and pastries,
Course 4: Two to three types of mini savoury options. 

In a high tea setting, the finger food will typically be presented on three-tier cake stands, the hallmark of any high tea worth its clotted cream.

For a light afternoon tea, place your finger sandwiches and any other savoury treats on the bottom tier. Your freshly baked scones will take centre stage in the middle, and the top tier will crown the presentation with a symphony of delightful pastries and sweet treats. 

Keeping with tradition, your culinary journey begins from the bottom tier to the top. Start with the savouries, followed by the scones, and conclude with a delightful indulgence in the sweets. 

If you are planning to host a high tea with a more substantial menu, consider sandwich platters for your finger sandwiches, to leave more room on the cake stands for the rest of the delicacies. 

Place your savoury treats on one half of the bottom tier and the scones on the other half. Your delicious pastries and sweets will occupy the middle and the top tiers and the delicate finger sandwiches can be presented separately on platters. You can of course place the savoury and the finger sandwiches on the bottom tier and present the scones separately on a platter. 

If you are about to host your first high tea and you don’t know where to start, the following list outlines the essential equipment to host a high tea at home:

  • Tea cups & saucers
  • Side plates
  • Teapot
  • Milk jug & sugar bowl
  • Bowls for the cream & jam
  • Glasses
  • Spoons
  • Napkins

To host an elegant high tea and delightful high tea with all the trimmings, you can consider the following equipment: 

  • Tea cups & saucers
  • Side plates
  • Tiered cake stands
  • Teapots
  • Milk jugs & sugar bowls
  • Sandwich platters
  • Bowls for the cream & jam
  • Glasses
  • Spoons & forks
  • Linen
  • Tables
  • Chairs

Once you have sourced your equipment and finalised your menu,  you will also need to include the following:

  • Whipping (thickened) cream
  • Strawberry Jam
  • Sugar cubes (or just plain sugar)
  • Milk
  • Selection of teas
  • Champagne (Optional)

Finding the perfect equipment to host high tea is fun and may cost a lot less than you think! Here are some great ideas to help with your treasure hunt:

  • Salvos and vintage shops: Unearth hidden treasures like charming teacups, cake stands, and silverware at affordable prices.
  • Treasure hunt: Raid grandma’s display cabinet for charming teacups, cake stands, teapots and silverware, adding a touch of sentimental value to your high tea.
  • Borrow with love: Reach out to friends and family to see if they have any spare high tea essentials they’d be willing to lend, fostering a spirit of community and shared memories.
  • Department stores and homeware shops: Find a curated selection of modern and classic high tea essentials.
  • Online retailers: Browse a vast array of options, from budget-friendly finds to high-end sets, all delivered to your doorstep.
  • Online marketplaces: like eBay or Gumtree can also offer a wide selection of used and new items.
  • Dollar stores: Don’t underestimate the power of these stores for sourcing basic plates, platters, and utensils for a casual high tea gathering.
  • Hire for elegance: If treasure hunting is not your thing, consider hiring the equipment from a specialised high tea crockery hire business like High Tea Delights. Hiring will indeed help you elevate your high tea and wow your guests. This affordable option saves storage space and provides a touch of grandeur to your event.

With a little resourcefulness and exploration, you can easily assemble the necessary equipment to host a delightful and memorable high tea at home.

Ask any high tea afficionado and they will immediately tell you that you should use loose leaf. Lets take a closer look at each option, and let you decide which type of tea will work best for your high tea.

Loose leaf teas consist of higher quality of whole or large pieces of tea leaves and offer a wider range of flavours. On the downside, loose leaf tea requires infusers or strainers for brewing.

Tea bags are filled with smaller, broken leaves or dust, and they are generally cheaper than loose leaf. On the upside, they provide convenience and quick preparation, but often at the cost of flavour.

Pyramid tea pouches attempt to bridge that gap, combining the quality of loose leaf tea with the convenience of tea bags. Their larger size allows for better water circulation and fuller flavour expression, offering a more enjoyable experience compared to traditional tea bags.

When planning your own high tea at home, you will also need to consider the selection of teas you will be offering. With the myriads of tea blends out there, this might seem like a daunting task, but we are here to help. Although we can not give advise on specific brands, the main types of tea to consider for a high tea are:

Black Tea: Bold & robust full-bodied flavour.
White Tea: Delicate and sweet, with subtle floral notes.
Green Tea: Refreshing, light & grassy.
Oolong Tea: Bridging the gap between green & black tea.
Herbal Tea: Caffeine-free infusion of herbs, fruits & spices.

Most Popular Black Teas: 
Darjeeling Black Tea, Ceylon Black Tea, Assam Black Tea

Most Popular Black Tea Blends:
English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast

Most Popular Black Tea Fusions:
Earl Grey (Black tea, infused with bergamot), Chai Masala (Black tea, infused with fragrant spices)

Most Popular Green Teas:
Classic Green Tea, Sencha Green Tea, Matcha Green Tea, Jasmine Green Tea

Most Popular Herbal Teas:
Peppermint, Ginger, Rose Hip, Lemongrass, Chamomile, Herbal Blends (Various Brands)