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How to enjoy a quintessentially English afternoon tea at home

By LLM Reporters  |  May 22, 2020

Renowned for their floral teapots, cake stands, and other timeless designs, Burleigh Pottery has been handcrafting fine English tableware since 1851, and they know a thing or two about creating a quintessential afternoon tea setting. That’s why we asked their design development manager, Alison Howell, to share her advice for serving the perfect afternoon tea at home.

We might not be able to visit our favourite eateries at the moment, but we can try to recreate much-loved dining experiences at home. And what better to lift our spirits than a delightful afternoon tea?

The meal originated in the 1840s, when Duchess Anna of Bedford found herself getting peckish in the late afternoon (I’m sure many of us can relate). So, she began to invite her friends over to Woburn Abbey for refreshments — including a pot of tea, naturally — and it wasn’t long before others followed suit.

So, while it is today associated with charming English tea rooms and upscale hotels, afternoon tea has its roots in the home. Albeit a grandiose one.

Afternoon tea was traditionally enjoyed on fine china and in gardens so that the upper classes could properly flaunt their wealth. Image shows the Regal Peacock collection by Burleigh Pottery

Creating the perfect setting

Afternoon tea was traditionally enjoyed on fine china and in gardens so that the upper classes could properly flaunt their wealth. You might not be interested in showing off to the neighbours but, if you’re fortunate enough to have a garden and good weather, enjoying yours on your best dinnerware, outdoors, is a lovely idea, nonetheless. You could even dress up for the occasion.

No matter where you are serving your afternoon tea, a white tablecloth will provide the perfect backdrop. If you can, add a vase or jug featuring a few freshly picked wildflowers (just make sure not to uproot them or to take them from conservation areas).

An afternoon tea stand is of course the perfect table centrepiece. If you don’t have one, you could try fashioning one by stacking a dinner plate, upside-down teacup, and side plate. Ideally, you’ll also want a teapot, teacups and saucers, and side plates in tearoom-esque floral designs. But, especially in the current climate, it may just a case of making it work with what you’ve got.

Bunting is ideal for decorating your surroundings and can be easily created from all kinds of unwanted materials. This could be a great way to keep the kids busy for a few hours.

Creating the perfect menu

While you could go traditional and stick with a few light refreshments to see you through to dinner, most of us like to treat afternoon tea as a decadent lunch. You’ll want a good mix of sweet and savoury treats – homemade is always best but be careful not to be overambitious!

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840

It is customary to serve the likes of cucumber finger sandwiches and scones, but the selection is, of course, totally up to you, although you may be limited by what you can get your hands on at the moment. If you need inspiration, take a look at some restaurant menus online, perhaps from Claridge’s or The Ritz if you’re feeling fancy.

All of your treats should be dainty so that they can be elegantly served and enjoyed, while small flourishes like sprinklings of cress, mint leaves, or edible flowers give your dishes that perfect finishing touch.

Tea is a must, but it doesn’t have to be English breakfast. This advice from tea sommelier Kim Havelaar might come in handy. Plus, why not turn it into a Champagne afternoon tea by popping open a bottle of your favourite fizz?

For a bit of extra fun and to really recreate that restaurant feeling at home, create your own afternoon tea menu. It’ll look great on your table and is ideal if you’re surprising someone, perhaps for their birthday. If you have access to a printer, Canva has lots of free design templates that are ideal.