Afternoon tea brings together friends and family with delicious treats and — of course — a cup of tea. But how can you recreate this quintessentially British experience at home?


In this guide, we'll explain everything from what afternoon tea is and the essential tools you need, to what food and drinks to serve and how to make the perfect cup of tea, with tips from chef Peter Sidwell.


We've also spoken to renowned ceramist and London Pottery's Founding Director David Birch, who has over four decades of expertise in all things ceramic. He shares his expert advice on hosting the perfect afternoon tea party.


David Birch, Founding Director of London Pottery, and his son, Josh.

David Birch, Founding Director of London Pottery, and his son, Josh.



What is afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea is a British tradition that's all about satisfying those mid-afternoon cravings, bridging the gap between lunch and dinner. It's a delightful spread of mouthwatering treats and piping hot tea, typically served on a fancy three-tiered stand. Picture finger sandwiches, warm scones slathered with heavenly clotted cream and jam, and a tempting array of tiny pastries and cakes.


Not only has it been a cherished tradition among many, but it's also been enjoyed by members of the Royal Family for generations. In fact — it was The Duchess of Bedford who invented afternoon tea back in 19th-century Britain. It's no wonder that indulging in afternoon tea can make you feel elegant and sophisticated!


When is the best time to serve afternoon tea?

David says, “the ideal time to serve afternoon tea is 3:30 pm. This time strikes the perfect balance, curbing hunger in the mid-afternoon without spoiling appetites for your evening meal.”


By serving afternoon tea around this time, you’ll also be embracing tradition! Historically, afternoon tea was hosted between 3:30-5 pm. This timeframe was specifically chosen to bridge the lengthy gap between lunch and the later dinner hour, which typically fell around 8 or 9 pm.


Should afternoon tea be served indoors or outdoors?

Traditionally, afternoon tea is served indoors in a cosy setting, allowing guests to enjoy the warmth and comfort of a tea room or a beautifully set dining table. However, afternoon tea outdoors can be a refreshing experience, especially on a sunny day!


"Serving afternoon tea indoors or outdoors depends on the weather and the presence of buzzing insects. Personally, I find it quite enjoyable to have afternoon tea under some cover, even if it's just a sturdy umbrella set up on our upper patio," says David.


This way, you can appreciate the outdoor ambience while safe under protection from unexpected rain or unwelcome insect visitors.


For more tips on serving food outside, read our ultimate guide to outdoor dining.


What do you need for afternoon tea?

A teapot

A teapot with a floral design and a cup of tea next to it.


When it comes to afternoon tea, a teapot is a must-have. Not only is it practical, but it also adds to the overall presentation.


David recommends: “A selection of loose tea is a good idea when serving afternoon tea, as it offers a superior taste compared to tea bags. So, of course, you’ll need a filter teapot to prevent large loose leaves from escaping into your cup as you pour. London Pottery Farmhouse Teapots do just the job!


Just make sure you pick one big enough to cater to all your guests! The following table provides an idea of the recommended teapot capacities based on the number of cups you need to fill.


Number of cups Teapot capacity












But remember, the teapot capacity you need can vary depending on personal preferences and the size of the cups used. Having a slightly larger teapot than needed is always a good idea to ensure you have enough tea for everyone.


Teacups and saucers

A tea cup and saucer on a table outside, surrounded by cakes and food.


David tells us the unspoken rule of afternoon tea etiquette: "When it comes to serving the poured tea, you should always opt for a cup and saucer – never a mug!"


The delicate elegance of a cup and saucer adds a touch of refinement and enhances the overall tea-drinking experience. So, set aside those mugs and embrace the charm of sipping from a lovely cup and saucer during your afternoon tea gathering.


A sugar bowl

A blue floral sugar bowl with the lid on. There is a teaspoon with brown sugar on next to it.


David says, "you'll want to have a sugar bowl to hand, filled with sugar cubes, so your guests can sweeten their tea to their liking. And don't forget the sugar tongs!"


We recommend getting one with a lid so your sugar stays nice and dry when not in use.


Serving dishes

A collection of matching London Pottery serving dishes on a  table outside.


From cake plates to tiered stands, serving dishes play an essential role in elevating the presentation and functionality of an afternoon tea.


With all the cups, plates, and serveware that come with hosting an afternoon tea, the table can quickly become overcrowded, especially when you have a lot of guests to accommodate.


Not only does a tiered stand provide a practical solution for limited table space, but it also adds a pretty touch to the overall presentation. Its stacked design lets you show off your delicious creations, from finger sandwiches to delectable pastries, without overwhelming the table.


Cake plates are also great for displaying whole cakes, allowing them to take centre stage and become a tempting focal point of the afternoon tea.


Plates and cutlery

Each guest's setting should include a plate and a side plate positioned to the left of the dinner plate. The dinner plate is used for finger sandwiches and other savoury items, while the side plate serves as a place to set aside used tea bags or to hold individual portions of jam or clotted cream for scones.


Opting for plates with prints and patterns is sure to impress your guests and offer a pretty backdrop for your food!


Alongside the plates, provide cutlery, including a knife, fork, and spoon, ensuring each guest has the necessary utensils for tea time indulgence.


Serving tools

Having serving tools on the table during afternoon tea means that guests can easily help themselves to the various treats and condiments.


A cake server is a good idea for elegantly slicing and portioning desserts and serving tongs work well at handling finger sandwiches, pastries, and other delicate treats.


And don’t forget teaspoons for serving up condiments like jam for the scones.


A tablecloth

David says, "it's best to lay the table in a traditional manner, with a tablecloth to set the stage."


Not only does a tablecloth add a decorative touch, but it also protects the table from spills and makes cleanup easier. Choose one that matches your style or theme, whether it's a vibrant pattern or a simple solid colour.



Of course, napkins are there to help guests keep their fingers and mouths clean when eating. But they also add a stylish touch to the table setting — especially when carefully folded or made into creatively arranged designs.


What to serve at afternoon tea


A sandwich, teapot and cup of tea.

Peter comments: "Every afternoon tea party needs some kind of sandwiches that are small but full of flavour."


And David says there are plenty of filling options to choose from: "Sandwiches are a delightful addition to any afternoon tea, and the filling options are endless," says David. "Cucumber with mint cream, smoked salmon, and egg salad with cress are all great choices.


In keeping with tradition, I recommend preparing finger sandwiches with the crusts removed to give them an elegant touch. And offering a selection of white bread and wholemeal gives your guests a variety of options to enjoy.”


Peter also gives us his tips for making and serving sandwiches: "Start with good quality bread, and butter well to add extra flavour. To preserve their freshness, serve the sandwiches just before you tuck in, as the air can quickly dry out the bread - especially if you're eating outside.


When it comes to fillings, moderation is key, as overfilling will cause them to fall apart when picked up. And for an impressive presentation, line them up neatly, showcasing the array of different fillings."


As for any extras, David suggests “you could also arrange some sausage rolls alongside your sandwiches to create a diverse selection of savoury bites,” while Peter recommends“a savoury pastry like a mini quiche could be an excellent addition too.”



Cheese and beer scones on a serving board with a knife and bits of cheese.


No afternoon tea would be complete without the quintessential scone. These baked delights are beloved for their buttery, flaky texture and are typically served warm. And they complement a cup of tea beautifully!


Peter says, "when I imagine the ideal afternoon tea spread, the great British scones are the first things that come to mind. Topped with jam and clotted cream always!"


And David agrees: "You can't go wrong with classic scones with jam and clotted cream at afternoon tea. Simply place them on a tray dish, along with bowls of jam and clotted cream. And don't forget to add some serving spoons on the side."


It's best to offer a selection of plain and fruit scones, allowing guests to choose their favourite.

Or, you could even try something a bit different with our cheese and beer scones. These savoury scones provide a delightful contrast to the sweet treats on the tea table.


Or why not try Japanese sesame scones? Infused with the rich nuttiness of sesame seeds, they bring a unique twist to your afternoon tea.


If making from scratch — which we fully recommend — the key to light and fluffy scones is to handle the dough with care, gently incorporating the ingredients until just combined.


Peter provides his top tips for making scones: "To achieve perfectly risen and light-textured scones, bake them as soon as possible after preparing the dough. Leavening agents, like baking powder, release carbon dioxide bubbles when mixed with the wet ingredients and baking them immediately captures these gases, creating the desired lift and fluffiness.


Twisting the cutter while cutting scones can seal the edges and interfere with their natural expansion in the oven. Simply flouring the cutter and applying a gentle, downward press ensures clean cuts without disrupting the dough's structure, resulting in perfectly shaped scones.


And make sure to preheat your oven properly, giving it at least 10-15 minutes to reach the desired temperature. This ensures that your scones will develop a beautiful golden colour with a slightly crisp exterior, while maintaining a light inside."


To determine if your scones are done, look for a lovely golden-brown crust. You can also insert a toothpick or skewer into the centre of a scone — if it comes out clean or with a few crumbs, they're ready to be enjoyed. Just remember to let them cool for a few minutes before serving to achieve the perfect texture.


Peter says, "to serve your scones, generously butter the bottom half first, then add a layer of clotted cream, followed by a dollop of jam. You can then place the top half of the scone back on."



A selection of London Pottery serveware on a table. The plates are filled with cakes.


David says, "mini, individually portioned cakes are the epitome of the afternoon tea aesthetic. My favourites to serve are Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle cake, and angel cake – and they look great displayed on a London Pottery cake display stand."


Peter agrees: "When it comes to satisfying the sweet cravings during afternoon tea, I'd go for a mini Victoria sponge cake, generously filled with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam.


I've found that baking these cakes as mini individuals, rather than slices, not only looks better but also ensures they don't dry out. Fresh fruit on the side or on top of your cake adds the perfect finishing touch."


Another traditional option that shouldn't be missed is the iconic Battenberg cake. It allows for easy slicing into individual portions, making it a crowd-pleaser at afternoon tea gatherings. Why not try your hand at our Battenberg cake recipe?


Bite-sized cakes can be intricate and time-consuming, so — although the end result is stunning — beginners may prefer to create larger cakes. These are often simpler to prepare and can be easily sliced and served.


When it comes to cake decorating, get creative with buttercream frosting, glazes, or a dusting of powdered sugar. And for an extra special touch, consider incorporating seasonal fruits or edible flowers as beautiful garnishes.


For more decorating tips, read our guide on how to decorate a cake. Or, if you're looking to upgrade your baking equipment, check out our baking essentials checklist.



Four mini jam tarts,


From éclairs and macarons to fruit tarts and madeleines, pastries add an element of sophistication to your afternoon tea. But they can be tricky! They require precise measurements using kitchen scales, delicate handling, and specific techniques to achieve the best results.


If you do decide to take on pastries, it's best to make the dough the day before you host your afternoon tea. Simply pop it in the fridge overnight to chill and firm up. This not only saves you time on the day of the event, but also allows the flavours to develop and the dough to become more manageable. So, when the time comes, you can effortlessly bake your pastries to golden perfection and impress your guests with your homemade delights.


Peter recommends: "I would serve mini chocolate tarts at afternoon tea, perhaps filled with salted caramel. And for the finishing touch, I would whip up a few macarons flavoured with summer berries."


Check out our caramelised walnut and honey eclairs for a twist on a classic pastry or our mini jam tarts recipe — a great one for beginners!



Milk is being poured into a cup and saucer using a milk jug.


  • Tea — Of course, tea takes centre stage during afternoon tea. It's best to offer various tea options, such as black, green, herbal, or flavoured teas, to cater to different preferences. Don't forget to provide milk and sugar for guests to customise their tea. Refreshing iced tea is also a great option on a summer day.
  • Coffee — For those who prefer a caffeinated alternative, you could offer a selection of freshly brewed coffee. Whether it's an espresso or a latte, coffee lovers will appreciate this additional option. To learn more, read our guide on how to use a cafetière.
  • Water — It's important to keep your guests hydrated throughout the afternoon, especially if you're eating outside on a sunny day. Provide pitchers of water infused with slices of lemon, cucumber, or mint to add a touch of flavour and freshness.
  • Champagne or sparkling wine — To add a touch of elegance and celebration to your afternoon tea, consider offering a chilled bottle of champagne or sparkling wine.

How do you make a perfect cup of tea?

Tea is being poured into a cup from a teapot.


When it comes to making tea, everyone has their own preferences. However, there are a few things that the experts will agree makes the perfect cup of tea.


David says, "the key to a good cup of tea is using quality tea leaves. Whether it's loose-leaf or tea bags, choosing a reputable brand or supplier ensures that you're getting the best aromas.


Fresh boiling water that hasn't been reboiled is also a must, as this increases the oxygen levels, allowing the tea leaves to release their flavour.


Once you've poured your boiling water into your cup or teapot, leave it for around three to four minutes to brew. This will allow the tea leaves to infuse and unleash their full taste."


To make a perfect cup of tea, follow these steps:

  1. Boil fresh water — Start by boiling fresh water in a kettle. It's best to use filtered water for optimal taste.

  2. Warm the teapot or cup — If using a teapot, pour a little bit of the boiling water into it to warm it up. If making a single cup, you can do the same and swirl it around. Then, discard the water.

  3. Add tea leaves or tea bag — Place the desired amount of tea leaves or a tea bag into the teapot or cup. The amount may vary depending on the type and strength of tea you prefer.

  4. Pour the hot water — Carefully pour the freshly boiled hot water over the tea. For a single serving, fill the cup about three-fourths full. If using a teapot, fill it with enough water to cover the tea leaves or tea bag.

  5. Steep the tea — Allow the tea to brew for the recommended time, usually 3-4 minutes. You can adjust this time according to your taste preference (the longer the time, the stronger the flavour).

  6. Remove tea leaves or tea bag — Once the tea has steeped to your liking, remove the tea leaves or tea bag from the teapot or cup. You can use a tea strainer or simply lift out the tea bag.

  7. Add optional additions — At this point, you can add milk, sugar, honey, or lemon to your tea. Stir gently to combine the ingredients.

Afternoon tea presentation ideas and tips

From coordinating your tableware to creative tiered display stands, your afternoon tea set-up can really make a difference to the mood and atmosphere on the day. Here are some tips and ideas to help with your presentation.


1. Coordinate your tableware

David suggests: “Choosing a well-coordinated set of tableware can really tie your afternoon tea spread together and make it look extra special.”


From matching tea cups and saucers to complementary colours for your tablecloth and accessories, it’s those little touches that can make your afternoon tea presentation truly standout.


2. Add flowers to your table

A matching selection of London Pottery serveware laid out on a table outside. There is also a vase of white flowers on the table.


David says, "a small flower arrangement as a centrepiece can be a lovely addition to your afternoon tea table."


You can place fresh flowers into a vase or even scatter them around the tea table. The presence of flowers will certainly bring a cheerful atmosphere and add a pop of colour to your afternoon tea set-up.


3. Press your napkins

Consider pressing linen napkins before setting them on or next to your side plates for a polished touch," says David.


Neatly pressed napkins with crisp folds show attention to detail, and your guests will appreciate the extra effort!


4. Place your cutlery correctly

David says, "properly spacing your cutlery is an important detail when setting the table for afternoon tea."


"The knife should be placed on the right side of the plate, with the cutting edge facing inward, while the fork should be placed on the left side. The spoon can be placed either to the right of the knife or above the plate."


And remember — a general guideline is to leave about one inch of space between each utensil.


5. Create name tags

While not necessary, name tags can add a personal and thoughtful element to your table setting. Whether handwritten or innovatively designed, name tags also help with seating arrangements if you have a larger gathering.

And if you really want to push the boat out, you could get creative and make name-tag biscuits, icing them with each guest's name!


6. Ensure there’s enough space at the table

Make sure you have a spacious table that can comfortably accommodate your guests and all your tableware needed for the meal.


It's a good idea to practice setting up beforehand to check there's enough space for all the teacups, plates, and treats without overcrowding. It's best to keep decorations fairly simple and avoid going overboard, as too many items can crowd the table and make it difficult for guests to navigate.


The best tools for hosting afternoon tea

David says, “not only are these London Pottery products beautiful additions to your afternoon tea set-up, but they’re also extremely practical and durable, standing the test of time. Each item is thoughtfully designed to enhance your teatime experience.”


Best for making tea: London Pottery Splash 2 Cup Teapot and Small Jug Set

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Upgrade your tea-making experience with this stunning teapot and small jug set from London Pottery's Splash collection. The exquisite blue and white print adorning each piece will delight any tea enthusiast who appreciates beautifully-decorated pottery.


Crafted with attention to detail, the teapot is designed to deliver smooth and superior-tasting brews. Its non-drip spout features a built-in ceramic filter, ensuring that tea bags, petal teas, or loose leaves stay inside the pot, keeping your cup free from unwanted particles.


For those who love a dash of milk in their tea, the milk jug is the perfect companion. With its large handle, pouring becomes effortless and precise, allowing you to create the perfect cup of tea every time.


Best for displaying food: London Pottery Viscri Meadow Vintage-Style 2-Tier Cake Stand

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Enhance the elegance of your afternoon tea spread with this London Pottery tiered cake stand. It's designed to showcase your sweet treats in style, stealing the spotlight at your teatime gatherings. The classic tiered design makes it the perfect centrepiece, ideal for those special occasions that call for a touch of sophistication.


This cake stand is not only a pretty piece, but also designed with practicality in mind. It boasts a sturdy stainless steel spindle with a large loop, making it easy to lift and carry with grace. And the higher-sided plates ensure cakes and sandwiches stay securely in place.


Best for organisation: London Pottery Bundle with Canister and Tea Bag Tidy

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Enjoy a tidy table during afternoon tea with this London Pottery canister and tea bag tidy set. The canister keeps tea bags, coffee, and biscuits fresh with its airtight lid, while the tea bag tidy prevents mess by holding used tea bags.


Crafted from durable navy stoneware and adorned with white circles, this set combines style and functionality, adding a touch of organisation to your tea station. It's the perfect addition to your afternoon tea set-up!


Best for serving cake: London Pottery Viscri Meadow Floral Cake Plate

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Serve your delicious afternoon tea treats on this stunning London Pottery cake plate decorated with vibrant wildflowers. Inspired by the meadows of rural Transylvania, this plate brings a burst of colour and freshness to your teatime.


The durable ceramic finish ensures it's suitable for everyday use, whether you're enjoying a quiet slice of cake or hosting a lively tea party. It also makes a thoughtful gift and can be mixed and matched with other pieces from the Viscri Meadow collection for a complete afternoon tea serving set.


Best for serving tea: London Pottery Blue Rose Tea Cup and Saucer Set

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Elevate your teatime with this teacup and saucer set, adding a touch of elegance and charm to your gatherings. Featuring deep blue roses on almond ivory-coloured ceramic, these beautiful pieces will steal the spotlight on any afternoon tea table.


Worried about spills? You'll be glad to know this saucer has higher sides to prevent any accidents.


Create a beautiful afternoon tea spread with London Pottery products at CookServeEnjoy

From exquisite teapots and cups and saucers to elegant cake stands and tableware, delight your guests with our selection of London Pottery products, offering everything you need to elevate your teatime experience.

Shop our full London Pottery collection at CookServeEnjoy today.